Whenever a team replaces a large chunk of its roster, there is some level of uncertainty. This was the case for the Ohio State women’s basketball team as they were set to debut six new players in the 2016-17 season.
Five have seen the court so far, and it’s safe to say that some of the uncertainty can be put to rest. Redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga (transfer from North Carolina) and redshirt sophomore Sierra Calhoun (transfer from Duke) have carved out spots in OSU’s starting lineup. Redshirt junior guard Linnae Harper (transfer from Kentucky) is sitting out this semester due to NCAA transfer rules.
True freshmen guards Kiara Lewis and Jensen Caretti, and forward Tori McCoy have helped the Buckeyes off the bench.
“I really like our young players,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “You can see the talent that they have, they just need a lot more experience.”
Mavunga has led the team in rebounding in each of its first three regular season games. She’s averaged 12.7 points and 11 rebounds per game, and is shooting 60.9 percent from the field.
The Brownsburg, Indiana, native can be seen wearing a large brace around her right knee and working with trainers during games, but when McGuff was asked about her health, he took a playful jab at the forward.
“She’s getting old I guess,” McGuff said with a laugh. “She looks like me out there trying to play.”
Despite shooting just 28.6 percent from the field, Calhoun has contributed 11.3 points per game. She’s shooting a team-high 88.9 percent from the free-throw line.
OSU’s trio of freshmen have impressed as well. Leading the way is 5-foot-8 guard Kiara Lewis, who has averaged 6.7 points and four rebounds in 16.3 minutes. She’s shown a good amount of athletic ability and a knack for weaving her way through the opposition and getting the ball to the basket.
“Kiki’s got a chance to be a great player here; I think you can see her talent,” McGuff said. “Probably as much as anything, she came from a high school program where they have high expectations … so she really showed up ready and you can see that with how she plays.”
Playing significant minutes with a top-ten team as a true freshman may be too tough a task for some, but Lewis hasn’t looked the least bit fazed on the court.
“I feel real comfortable,” Lewis said. “I think the leadership on the team is a big key to me feeling comfortable.”
McCoy has backed up Mavunga and put up six points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game. She struggled a bit in her first two games, but the forward put up 12 points and grabbed six boards in the Buckeyes’ most recent win against Cleveland State.
Caretti has played in two games and tallied a total of 24 minutes. She’s just 1-for-4 from the field with three points thus far, but her athletic abilities are evident. She sees the floor well and is solid as a distributor.
Junior guard Kelsey Mitchell has played a large role in welcoming the newcomers. She stepped into more of a leadership role this offseason and is currently enrolled in a leadership course at OSU. Part of her new responsibilities include taking the new Buckeyes under her wing.
“It starts with off the court, making sure they feel welcomed and making sure they feel loved,” Mitchell said. “I know for myself, it’s not so much what I do on the court for those guys … It’s just as small as giving them a ride or taking them to get something to eat. You’ve got to make them feel like they’re a part of something. I try to do a good job of that, especially with the freshman, making them feel like we’re sisters.”