Taylor Agler’s absence is one of note for the Bobcats this preseason. She was a veteran leader whose graduation leaves a leadership gap.
Agler was a fifth-year senior last season and led the Bobcats with an average of 31 minutes per game. She played exceptional defense, took care of the ball and led a young team to the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Young players like Cece Hooks, who won MAC Freshman of the Year last season, looked up to Agler. But now Hooks and the rest of the Bobcats’ young team — six of their 15 players are upperclassmen — will have to find leadership somewhere else.
The entire team.
“I think (the team) is changing because Taylor's gone,“ Hooks said. “She was a big leader on the team last year, so everyone has the chance to become a leader now that Tay's gone. It was kind of weird (not having Agler at practice), but we got through it. It's not just on one specific person, it's on everyone now."
Beginning a season without one or two specific leaders is an approach not many teams take, but it’s one thing that will be different for Ohio this season.
The idea of being a “different” team, however, doesn’t scare coach Bob Boldon.
“I don't think we have anybody that has Taylor's skill set,“ he said. “Taylor had a very unique skill set, being a fifth-year senior and having a lot of experience. I don't think we really have that. We're going to have to work a little differently."
The change will start with Hooks, who led Ohio with 13.5 points per game last season. Hooks, a Dayton native, said she worked extensively on her shooting abilities over the offseason with her brother at the YMCA. She wants to expand her shooting game beyond what she showed last season.
Boldon said he’s noticed improvement from both Hooks and sophomore Gabby Burris, who finished with 10.2 points per game last season.
“(Hooks and Burris) are both better now than when they left us last spring,“ Boldon said. “I think they're both driven to be better than they were, and that's tough to do when you get the accolades and the success you have as a freshman. Sometimes you come in next year and you feel a little too comfortable with where you're at, but that's not the case with those two.”
With Hooks and Burris ready to transition into increased roles for the team, Boldon may try to mold two freshmen into players capable of earning a spot on the MAC All-Freshman team. It’s something he did with Hooks and Burris last season and Amani Burke two years ago. He hopes Erica Johnson and Deesh Beck, two freshmen he plans to play this season, can continue the trend.
“Either or both of them will end up starting by the time January comes around,“ Boldon said. “We have some work to do between now and then. I think they both are valuable and bring something to the game."
When either Johnson or Beck enter the starting lineup, it will be a good sign that Ohio’s “different” team from Agler’s departure is no longer different. It will have an identity, it will have solidified its roles and it will have filled as much of the hole Agler’s departure created.