At this time a year ago, Kevin McGuff was getting ready to start his sixth season at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes had a women's basketball roster with eight new players, five of whom were graduate transfers. Five months later, the season ended with a 14-15 record and loss in the first round of the WNIT.

 

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This season, McGuff will be tasked again with leading a team with eight new players. This year, he’s traded experience for youth. Of those eight new players, seven are freshmen, a recruiting class that was ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation by ESPN.

“We have a really young team, so we have a little growing to do,” McGuff said. “Some days it’s a little bit choppy, but the kids are working really hard. I feel like there’s a really high ceiling to where this group could go, but it’s going to take a relentless push to get better on a daily basis.”

The jewel of McGuff’s recruiting class is Kiersten Bell, the No. 6 prospect in her class according to ESPN Hoopgurlz.

The Buckeyes also have Rikki Harris (No. 24), Kaelynn Satterfield (No. 39) and Jacy Sheldon (No. 41). Those four, combined with freshmen Rebeka Mikulasikova and Aixa Wone Aranaz, make up a core that McGuff hopes will star at Value City Arena for the next four seasons.

“(Practices) are probably going a little slower than I’d like just because we’re so young, but I’m really kind of anxious to make sure we lay the foundation down the right way,” McGuff said. “We’re kind of taking our time to make sure we get things right, and hopefully that will work in our favor in the long run.”

At this time last season, Sheldon was beginning her senior season at Dublin Coffman. She averaged 28 points on the way to being named the Division I player of the year. Now she's projected to be one of the key pieces for the Buckeyes.

“I knew coming to this level it was going to be faster, but I think we’re adapting really well,” Sheldon said. “Our chemistry is really clicking.”

The wild card of the freshman class is Harris, who fought through plenty of adversity before arriving to Ohio State. Harris, a native of Indianapolis, suffered a torn knee ligament in eighth grade and again in her junior year of high school. Those injuries, coupled with a shoulder injury she suffered as a senior, have led to Harris starting slow in practice.

“A year ago, I was still in pain, not able to move without hurting,” Harris said. “Now I can go through a couple or two practices without being sore. It’s great to be able to trust in my body again and do these things without being sore.”

McGuff knows that for this team to play deep into March, he’ll need his freshmen to be ready.

“I want to push and challenge them to get to the highest level they can get to,” he said. “Sometimes I’m overdoing it, but I’d rather do that instead of underdoing it.”

 

hpalattella@dispatch.com

@hellapalattella