Not only will the Ohio State women’s basketball team be without senior guard Kelsey Mitchell next season, but it will also lose four other key contributors to graduation in forwards Stephanie Mavunga and Alexa Hart, and guards Linnae Harper and Asia Doss.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, redshirt junior guard Sierra Calhoun and redshirt junior forward Makayla Waterman both said they will be returning to Ohio State for the 2018-19 season.
“I’m going to stay here for my fifth year,” Waterman said after her team’s loss to Central Michigan in the NCAA tournament. “I’ve got a lot of things like studying abroad, going on service trips this summer with the university.”
Never a primary scorer, Waterman served as a facilitating forward this season. She averaged just 3.5 points and 3.9 rebounds across 18.2 minutes per game in 32 games. Next season, she will be counted on to take a larger offensive role with the loss of Mavunga, the team’s top frontcourt scoring threat.
Calhoun also affirmed her intention to return next season after the loss to the Chippewas, answering with a simple “yes” before the question was even completed.
Starting in all 34 of the Buckeyes’ games this season, Calhoun scored 11.8 points per game, the fourth-most on the team. She was a primary ball-handler at times, taking the pressure off Mitchell, and often took the role as a sharpshooter. She shot 37.4 percent from the field, while making 35.8 percent of her 3-point attempts this season.
Calhoun said she anticipates and is looking forward to becoming more of a scoring threat with Ohio State’s three leading scorers — Mitchell, Mavunga and Harper — leaving the program.
Given the youth of next season’s team, Waterman and Calhoun must take larger leadership roles, which Calhoun believes will not be too much different to their roles this season despite the loss of the five seniors.
“We will see,” Calhoun said with a laugh. “I feel like we were still leaders this year. I feel like we were one of the older kids this year, so we definitely had to lead by example and talk, things like that. Hopefully that will translate to next year.”
Waterman and Calhoun will be joined next season by sophomore guard Jensen Caretti, who averaged 8.7 minutes and 2.4 points in 29 games. A former highly regarded recruit, Caretti will almost assuredly move into a starting role next season despite her lack of experience.
Next year, the Buckeyes will add Najah Queenland, a transfer from Pacific who sat out this season and will be in her fourth collegiate season. In 2016-17, her final season at Pacific, she averaged 4.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 22.1 minutes per game. With Harper, Mitchell and Doss graduating, the 5-foot-10 Queenland could fill the role as a primary ball-handler.
Ohio State will also add a crop of freshmen. It has three 2018 prospects — four-star guard Janai Crooms, three-star post Aaliyah Patty and four-star Hungarian forward Dorka Juhasz — committed to the program. Despite lacking collegiate experience, the trio could have an impact on the team given the graduations.
Redshirt junior guard Chelsea Mitchell, the sister of Kelsey, took the semester off to focus on academics and her status on next season’s team is unclear. Former walk-ons Savitha Jayaraman and Karlie Cronin will return, but neither are expected to have major upticks in their responsibilities.
Waterman said she and Calhoun have often looked ahead to next year and thought about being the team’s only seniors with a vastly different roster composition.
“We talk about that all the time too,” Waterman said. “It’s going to be weird. We’re going to be the oldest ones on the team.”
Not only will it be weird for Waterman, but the Buckeyes will once again be dealing with a smaller-than-usual roster.
If Ohio State does not add any transfers or recruits for next season and Chelsea Mitchell returns, it will have just 10 players. And without Kelsey Mitchell, Mavunga, Doss, Harper and Hart, the Buckeyes might be in for a tough rebuilding year.