Miami women set to open the season vs. Xavier

The Mid-American Conference women’s basketball preseason coaches’ poll wasn’t very flattering to Miami.

The RedHawks were picked to finish 11th in the 12-team MAC. For a team that’s gone a combined 23-61 overall and 11-47 in the conference in DeUnna Hendrix’s first three seasons as Miami’s coach, that probably shouldn’t be a surprise.

Hendrix and her players are doing their best to overlook the voting.

“Personally, I don’t pay much attention to preseason polls,” sophomore guard Ivy Wolf said. “They don’t change how hard we’ve been working or what we do, day-in and day-out. They don’t change what we’re focusing on.”

The RedHawks, who open the season Monday at home vs. Xavier at 6 p.m., are coming off an 8-21 season, 4-16 in the MAC. The 5-foot-8 Wolf and 5-10 guard Maddi Cluse combined to score 40 points in Miami’s 79-68 win over Malone in an exhibition tuneup last week. Wolf added eight assists.

Wolf averaged 16.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists over her last nine games to close out the year.

Cluse scored in double figures nine different times, last season including a career-best 17 points versus Buffalo. She also had 12 points and 10 rebounds at Illinois and closed the season with 12 points at Ohio and 10 points at Akron.

The RedHawks will open the season looking forward to the imminent return of 5-8 senior guard Peyton Scott, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a knee in Miami’s 73-72 MAC loss at Akron in the last game of last season. The Lynchburg, Ohio, native goes into the season ranked ninth on tbe program’s career scoring list with 1,441 points, just behind Cindi Merrill’s 1,497 points.

Last season Scott averaged 19.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest, all tops on the team. The second-team All-MAC performer scored in double figures 27 times and had a season-high 32 points versus Eastern Michigan. She added 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a road victory at Xavier and added 25 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Evansville.

Despite the injury, Scott was named to the MAC pre-season first-team all-star squad.

“The only thing I care about the preseason poll is Peyton Scott got some respect,” Hendrix said. “The whole league is going through some changes. Peyton got cleared to practice. She’d already been back into things, and she looks great. I’ve seen players come back from knee injuries, but I haven’t seen one like that.”

Hendrix faces the task of preparing a team with and without Scott.

“It’s a challenge,” she admitted. “We’re still trying to figure it out. We have to be careful that it’s not just about ‘P,’ but what she does for everyone around her. We don’t expect her to play 35 minutes right away. We’re still jelling some pieces together.”

Hendrix is hoping the returnees will be supplemented by three newcomers. Sierra Morrow, a 6-1 junior forward-center, transferred from Bradley and 6-1 sophomore forward and China native Jessie Dai transferred from Odessa College. Riley Neal joins the team from as a 5-11 freshman forward from North Oldham (Ky.) High School.

Neal averaged 21.6 points and 10 rebounds per game last season as a senior, while Morrow averaged 6.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and was 70th in the nation with 1.6 blocks per contest. Dai averaged 11.3 points and 4.5 rebounds last season.

Hendrix goes into the opener against the Musketeers concerned mainly about Miami’s rebounding.

“We have to be disciplined about rebounding, and we’re not that right now,” she said.

On the other hand, she believes she can bring around that and other aspects of her team.

“This is probably the most coachable team we’ve ever had,” she said. “They’ve been doing a great job. This is the most team-oriented we’ve ever been. We’ve been taking pride in our cohesion.”

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