Ohio’s 2022-23 team is full of new faces and new obstacles. The 2021-22 Ohio team was one of the most highly anticipated teams under head coach Bob Boldon, but, like other recent Ohio teams, it fell short of its ultimate goal and lost in the Mid-American Conference tournament.
This team does not have the stars or the experience that the 2021-22 team did. New faces and young players will have to become key contributors for the 2022-23 Bobcats.
Ohio had a historic and storied season in 2021-22, but it’s difficult to view the end result as anything but a disappointment. Ohio legend CeCe Hooks became the MAC’s all-time leading scorer midway through the season, but as a unit Ohio didn’t take the next step that it hoped for.
After being predicted to finish first in the MAC, the Bobcats finished below .500 in conference play for the first time since Bob Boldon’s first season in 2013.
There were several things that didn’t go as planned last season for the Bobcats, but the biggest weakness was the defense. The Bobcats allowed more points per game and total 3-pointers than any other team in the MAC. They also had the worst free throw shooting percentage in the conference.
Those weaknesses prevented an extremely prolific offense from making a postseason run. After a mediocre regular season, the Bobcats were able to sneak into the MAC tournament in early March. Because of a sub-.500 record in conference play, Ohio was tasked with taking on No. 1 Toledo in the first round of the tournament. Ohio couldn’t keep up and was sent home with an 80-67 loss.
The Bobcats' season was prolonged when they accepted a bid to the WNIT and squared off against South Dakota State, who swiftly ended Ohio’s season with a dominant 30-point win.
Losses and Returns
It is impossible to talk about the 2022 Bobcats without mentioning the massive shoes that they will have to fill due to Cece Hooks' departure. Although Hooks’ points record in the MAC will immortalize her on the offensive end, Hooks was also an elite defender and was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year every year from 2019-22.
Erica Johnson was another extremely important contributor to the 2021-22 Bobcats. Johnson was the second-leading scorer for the Bobcats and made the most three-pointers of anyone on the team.
The Bobcats will also be without their third-leading scorer in 2021-22, Gabby Burris. Burris averaged 13.9 points per game, along with a team-leading 26 blocks for the season.
Kaylee Bambule was one of Ohio’s best shooters in the 2021-22 season. Her six threes against Minnesota gave Ohio a good chance at pulling off an upset. Bambule will no longer play for the Bobcats, but she was added to the Bobcats’ coaching staff as a video coordinator.
The Bobcats' only other loss was Hunter Rogan, who provided the Bobcats some depth in their rotation.
With only one senior, Caitlyn Kroll, Ohio will be one of the MAC’s youngest teams. Kroll didn’t play in 2021-22, but in the year before she averaged 6.9 points per game. Kroll could give Ohio a much-needed offensive boost after the departure of Hooks.
The Bobcats do have some experience, however, with a plethora of juniors. Abby Garnett missed a lot of time in 2021-22 with an injury but in her first two years, she grabbed some playing time off the bench for the Bobcats. Garnett could help replace some of Burris’ production at the forward position.
Kailah Johnson is a transfer from Edison State Community College, where she averaged 21 points per game and won her conference’s player of the year award. Although the MAC will be a step up for Johnson, her experience and playmaking abilities will be very valuable for the Bobcats.
Peyton Guice gives the Bobcats great size at the guard position. Although Guice missed most of the 2021-22 season due to an injury she showed a lot of promise as an underclassman. In 2020-21, Guice scored 4 points per game before a season-ending injury. If Guice can stay healthy, she can be another weapon in Boldon’s arsenal.
Jasmine Hale is another junior that missed serious time in 2021-22 because of an injury. Hale transferred in from Wisconsin before the 2019-20 season and made her debut in the 2020-21 season. Hale didn’t have a huge impact as a redshirt sophomore, but she will hope to add to the Bobcats’ depth in 2022-23.
At 6-foot-2, Sasha Antanova is the Bobcats’ tallest player. Antanova is still growing as a player, and didn’t grab much playing time in her first two years with the Bobcats, but her height could help the Bobcats defensively against taller teams.
After countless juniors battled injuries in 2021-22, the freshmen were forced into the spotlight. Of the four highest returning scorers, three of them are sophomores.
One of those players is Yaya Felder. Felder was one of only two players to play in all 30 games in 2021-22. Felder averaged 7.5 points and 1.4 assists per game. She will have to capitalize on her playmaking potential in order for the Bobcats’ offense to function without Hooks and Johnson. Felder didn’t shoot many threes last season, but at 38% from beyond the arc, she was one of the Bobcats’ most efficient three-point shooters. Look for Felder to shoot more threes in the absence of Burris and Johnson.
Madi Mace was another one of the other extremely impactful freshman Bobcats last season. Mace is the leading returning scorer for the Bobcats, and without Hooks and Johnson, Mace will be asked to do even more this season. Mace averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Mace is one of the Bobcats’ best returning scorers, and she and Felder will have to make for a high-scoring backcourt if the Bobcats want to make some noise in the MAC.
Ella Pope didn’t play very much last season, but when she did, she was one of the Bobcats’ best shooters. Pope only took 11 3-pointers last season, but made seven of them. Pope could be the three-point shooter the Bobcats are looking for in the absence of Burris and Johnson.
Kate Dennis grabbed some playing time off the bench for the Bobcats last season. She didn’t do much scoring, but at 6-foot-1, she can help the Bobcats defensively.
Aja Austin is a sophomore but will be in her first year with the Bobcats. Austin played for Delaware last year who ended up playing in the NCAA Tournament. Austin wasn’t a key contributor for Delaware, but she may be able to take a leap forward with the Bobcats.
Kendall Hale is the younger sister of Jasmine Hale She only played in eight games for the Bobcats last season, but she can add depth to the Bobcats’ bench.
Jaya McClure and Cassidy Lafler are the only two true freshmen on the Bobcats’ roster, and will likely not get too much playing time this year, but will have plenty of time to work on their games.
Ohio’s first major test of the season will come in its third game of the year against No. 14 Ohio State. Not only is Ohio State nationally ranked, but they are also predicted to finish second in the Big Ten. Ohio will also take on Cincinnati and Dayton, which should provide it with more difficult non-conference games. Finally, Ohio will travel to Lexington to take on Kentucky.
In conference play, the Bobcats will certainly have to play their best if they want to come up with a win when they travel to Toledo. Toledo was picked to finish first in the MAC in the preseason poll and will give most teams in the conference a very difficult game. The Bobcats will also have to take on Ball State, a team that made it to the MAC Championship in 2021-22, twice next year.
Keys to a successful season
If the Bobcats want to be a serious contender in the MAC this season, they will need strong and consistent play from their young backcourt. Coming off of a highly productive year, Felder and Mace will have to be even better this season to make up for the loss of their three highest scorers. The Bobcats will have to hope that they can be healthier than they were last season, and that their depth can help them improve defensively from last season.
Winning the MAC tournament may have been the expectation for past Bobcat teams, but for this team, winning the MAC tournament seems like climbing Mount Everest. The Bobcats are forced to replace four key contributors from last year’s team with young and relatively inexperienced players.
Although the Bobcats’ young returners are highly talented, it is not easy to fill the shoes of Erica Johnson, Cece Hooks and Gabby Burris. After a slow start to the season, the Bobcats will slip into the MAC Tournament, and maybe pull off an upset or two. But eventually, their lack of experience will catch up to them and they will lose in the MAC tournament.