By Ben Hercik
The season for the Cleveland State University women’s basketball team has gotten off to a roaring start. After losing their first game of the season to Bowling Green State University, they have rattled off five straight wins to sit at 5-1 on the season.
A lot of the attention this season has been on senior guard Mariah Miller. Miller is only one of two seniors on the team and has been a real leader for the team. She has been trying to focus on helping everyone be on the same page, no matter how good or bad the season goes.
“Making sure that everyone is on the same page, and making sure that we all stick together through any adversity we might face,” Miller said. “As a leader, I’m always making sure that everyone has their mind right every time we take the court and making sure that we go out and practice/play hard every single time.”
The win streak started against Davis and Elkins University with a 110-41 victory for the Vikings. While Miller led the way with 26 points, she was not the lone Viking to have a great performance. Junior guard Mariah White was the other starter in double figures as she put in 14. Freshman guard Taylah Levy and sophomore forward Isabelle Gradwell put up 22 and 12 off the bench respectively.
The competition would then step up, but the Vikings would keep on winning. Next up was Long Island University. Cleveland State was led once again by Miller, who put up a career high 30 points.
While Miller was the leader, she credits all those points to her teammates, who were getting the ball to her so she could get her new record.
“My teammates were finding me in the right spots, and my shot was falling that night,” Miller said. “It almost felt like it wasn’t real. It felt great to put up that many points, but even better was that we got the win as a team.”
The next three games were decided by 10 points or less and were a much needed challenge for the Vikings. Cleveland State continued on their New York roadtrip with a game against Hofstra University.
The team led the game 34-22 at the half and would hold on to win 61-51. While she had been the leader of the team for the first two games of the win streak, Miller only had 10 points. With their leader struggling, sophomore forwards Nadia Dumas and Savanna Crockett stepped up and led the team with 13 and 15 points respectively.
Crockett, Miller and White are coming off of a season where they all earned postseason Horizon League honors, and they have been a key part of the early season success, according to Head Coach Chris Kielsmeier.
“They are big time playmakers, and the thing that I have tried to get them to understand is that they could all impact the game on the defensive end as much as they do on the offensive end,” Kielsmeier said. “Those three have been great playmakers for us, but I’m really proud of their development as complete players on both ends of the floor.”
The trio would not be together for long, as Crockett would suffer an injury in the win against Hofstra. While she hasn’t been putting up the points on the offensive side, Crockett has been an important player rebounding the ball, as she leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per game.
This was apparent in the game against St. Bonaventure University, as they were outrebounded 44-35. The Vikings were down at the half, the first time they trailed during their win streak. This deficit didn’t deter the Vikings, as they would outscore the Bonnies 34-22 to come back and win the game 65-62.
While this was a close game, Kielsmeier believes that they are in a position to win these close games.
“I really felt that we would be able to find a way to win close games this year with how this team has been preparing throughout the preseason and leading up to our first few games,” Keilsmeier said. “To be able to do that in the first close game that you were in of the year, really has to give them a lot of confidence.”
After the three game road trip, the Vikings returned home to play against the University of Akron, which was another close game that Cleveland State would win, 66-62. The team was able to rally from being down at the half again and held Akron to nine points in the entire third quarter to take the lead and never look back.
With Miller and White leading the team with 22.8 and 16.2 points per game respectively, and the rest of the team playing well together, Kielsmeier likes the direction that the team is heading, but there is still stuff that the team can improve on.
“I think you can always get better at everything,” Keilsmeier said. “We need to continue to work on all aspects of the game and continue to put together a complete game every time we step on the court.”