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Ohio guard Bengisu Alper (33) huddles with her teammates during a break against Ball State in the MAC Women's Bastketball Tournament at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, Mar. 13, 2024. Alper scored three points for the Bobcats, but Ohio fell to the Cardinals 53-77.

Women’s Basketball: Ohio makes strides in a promising 2023-24 season

Ahead of the season debut for Ohio, there were few expectations for success. The Bobcats were coming off a six-win season where they finished tied for last in the Mid-American Conference, and the lack of success was felt even further when leading-scorer Yaya Felder entered the transfer portal.

Entering the new season, the Bobcats looked at almost a completely new team, filled with transfers, first-years and players returning from injury.

A promising 2-2 start was followed by nine losses in Ohio’s next eleven games. Minor injuries throughout the season kept the potential of this team under wraps but also gave a spotlight to the players who would emerge as pillars of Ohio’s future.

Freshmen Monica Williams, Laylay Fantroy and Bailey Tabeling earned large roles with the team early on, with Williams even being a starter in every one of the Bobcats’ games this season. Each player brought their unique brand of excitement and eventually helped garner wins for the team when it mattered most.

Williams fluctuated between primary and secondary ball-handler, growing in confidence and production as the season went on; Tabeling dazzled as one of the NCAA’s better perimeter shooters, earning her a spot on the MAC All-Freshman team; and Fantroy showcased an all-around game highlighted by her activity on defense and athleticism in transition.

Sophomore guard Jaya McClure and junior forward Kennedi Watkins were also bright spots for the team, despite dealing with injuries throughout the season. Both were named All-MAC Honorable Mention selectees and took on large roles offensively for this young Bobcats team cobbled together with new pieces.

The start of conference play was slow for Ohio. Following a win against Akron to propel its record to 4-7, it would win just three more games in the first half of conference play, all consecutively against Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Miami, the bottom-three finishers in the MAC at season’s end.

Conference play was broken up by a final nonconference game against Texas State. The Bobcats would need to turn it around in a big way to make the MAC tournament, and they did just that.

Perhaps the biggest turning point of the season came in Ohio’s matchup against third-seeded Kent State.

Behind heroic performances from McClure and Dennis, in which both players scored career highs, and a game-sealing charge from Peyton Guice, the Bobcats were able to secure the win, building momentum throughout the remainder of the season.

Ohio went 3-2 to finish the season, winning crucial games against teams both slightly ahead and below them in the MAC standings. As the conference seeding was finalizing; however, Ohio fell to Miami in its final game of the season, dropping the team from sixth to seventh.

This would prove to be crucial, as it would be the difference between playing Ball State, a powerhouse contending for an at-large NCAA tournament bid, or Kent State which Ohio had previously beaten.

Regardless, the Bobcats traveled to Cleveland to compete in the MAC tournament, a huge step forward from the season prior. Ohio would fall to Ball State 77-53, finishing its season.

Next season’s result will depend on the changes to the Bobcats’ roster, but this season has shown signs of a bright future for the Bobcats. As for the bevy of freshmen and sophomores who have provided in large roles, that will only grow in the future, and with the experience the members of this team now have, growth will occur.


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