As the Ohio State women’s basketball team gears up for the 2021-22 season, a large elephant remains in the room: forwards Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Patty — the team’s two leading rebounders from last season — are no longer Buckeyes.
While it is difficult to ignore the void left by the transfers of Juhasz and Patty, many Buckeyes — including senior guard Braxtin Miller — are confident that this year’s team has the leadership and talent in place to compete in the Big Ten Conference and beyond.
“Although it is definitely upsetting and unfortunate that they have left, we have to move forward,” Miller said. “We have leaders this year that are able to keep us going and we’ve done a good job so far just trying to fill that void, even in the sense of rebounding and post-play. Everybody knows their importance and their roles, and I think we’re taking it on well so far.”
With 10 players returning to a team that finished last season 13-7, head coach Kevin McGuff’s team is poised to bring both veteran backcourt leadership and a revamped identity to the court in the 2021-22 campaign.
Ohio State’s strength lies within its guard play as it will welcome back all three starting guards from last season.
The Buckeyes’ backcourt is spearheaded by junior guard Jacy Sheldon, who led the team in scoring as a sophomore last season with 16.7 points per game and earned a second team All-Big Ten selection. Alongside Sheldon is fellow junior guard Madison Greene, who recorded a team-high 4.3 assists per game before missing the final five games with a presumptive positive COVID-19 case.
McGuff said he has seen Sheldon and Greene mature as both players and leaders since they joined the team in 2019. He said they’ve learned to use their skills and voice on the court to elevate the play of others around them.
“To see what Madison was in year one and where she will be this year, it’s just how she makes everybody else around her better,” McGuff said. “And now, Jacy is starting to get that, and I think that’s what kind of separates them.”
As the two junior guards look to improve the team through their guard play and leadership, Miller will look to fill a much-needed hole for the Buckeyes.
With the departures of Juhasz and Patty, the 5-foot-11 senior, who used her extra year of eligibility to return to Columbus after leading the team in minutes played, said she looks to take an expanded role inside the paint and serve as a calming influence for the younger players on the roster.
“I want to make sure I’m rebounding to help contribute to the team and remain confident so that if I miss a shot here or there, it doesn’t stop me,” Miller said. “I need to make sure that I can keep driving and keep attacking and just be confident in my own abilities.”
Miller is not the only Buckeye planning to step up inside the paint this season.
While the battle for the two starting frontcourt positions remains an open competition, McGuff has noticed the improved play of forwards graduate Tanaya Beacham and junior Rebeka Mikulasikova during practice — as they have made a notable effort to rebound and defend in the paint.
“Rebounding will certainly be a big point of emphasis for us and it’s going to be a team effort. We need all hands on deck there,” McGuff said. “But I also think you will see Rebeka Mikulasikova and Tanaya Beacham really step up. We had a lot of post players last year and [Mikulasikova and Beacham] didn’t quite get the minutes that maybe they could have played, and I think you’ll see them take advantage of that this year.”
As McGuff looks to lean on his returning players, he will also welcome two freshmen and one transfer to the roster.
Among those new players are Oregon transfer and senior guard Taylor Mikesell, who arrives in Columbus as a highly decorated scorer and 3-point shooter.
The Massillon, Ohio, native will look to emerge as a top-scoring threat on her third collegiate stint, as she not only led the Ducks with 39 made 3-pointers last season, but also spent two years at Maryland — making 95 3-pointers her freshman year and setting the Terrapins single-season 3-point record.
After coaching against Mikesell for two years at Maryland, McGuff said he is relieved the senior guard has chosen to finish her career with the Buckeyes.
“She’s an incredible player. I had the incredible pleasure and displeasure of coaching against her when she was at Maryland and she just killed us,” McGuff said. “She’s a really good fit in our system. We get a lot of 3-point shots by virtue of the space and pace we play with, and she’s going to have a really bright career for us.”
As Ohio State puts the finishing touches on its offseason preparation, it enters the 2021-22 campaign poised to meet any challenge that comes with competing in a Big Ten Conference that features five ranked teams and returns 70 percent of its players from last season.
“This is one of the, if not the best, conferences out there, so we really have to stay focused,” Sheldon said. “The focus and discipline needs to be there, and we need to make sure we show up every game because there are no easy games in the Big Ten.”