Sports Journalism Blog

By Jaela Johnson | @jae_jamirah

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS – You don’t know until you find out. The Cleveland State Vikings entered the Horizon League women’s championship game as one of the most consistently successful programs in the nation. Their 29 victories were the second-most in school history, one fewer than the 30 victories last season. Their 18-2 conference record produced the first regular-season championship in school history and 35 Horizon League victories in two seasons.

The Vikings had averaged 74.5 points per game. One day earlier, in an overwhelming semifinal victory over Wright State, they scored 30 in the first quarter and 52 in a half.

The level of their success, the quality of the relationships, the whole experience was inspiring.

“This year that I’ve had is almost like a coach’s dream,” said Chris Kielsmeier, the coach of the Vikings.

Which could not have prepared the Vikings for what they had to confront in the championship game.

“Green Bay wanted it worse than us,” Kielsmeier said, “and that has a lot to do with the fact that we have taken a lot from them in the past and they said, ‘Not today.”

The Green Bay Phoenix, the program the Vikings had defeated in the title game a year ago and eliminated in a semifinal in 2022, stifled Cleveland State in a surprisingly one-sided 64-40 victory.

Mickayla Perdue, whose average of 17.2 points was second-highest in the league, was limited to just one point in the first half and seven for the game. Perdue’s field-goal percentage of 47.8 was fourth-best in the league, but she made just two of 12 shots, 1-for-8 from 3-point range. “Today we were just not ready to play,” said junior guard Colbi Maples, who scored 22 of her team’s 40 points.

“We were just out of sync,” said Sara Guerreiro, a senior guard who knows what it takes and how it feels to beat Green Bay at a moment such as this. Still, this was the unfortune reality for the Vikings as their conference season came to an end in conference play.

The diversity of what culture looks like in college basketball has shifted tremendously with the transfer portal making its imprint in the lives and flexibility of movement for both players and coaches. Kielsmeier lost a vital part of his team with the injury to Destiny Leo, a two-time first team all-league player and the Most Valuable Player of the 2023 Horizon League tournament. But Kielsmeier snatched Perdue and Maples out of the portal to help his team remain among the Horizon League championship contenders.

During the post-game press conference Kielsmeier maintained that the quality of play in the Horizon League merited a second bid and challenged the NCAA to explain the computerized formula used by the selection committee.

His team’s likely destination will be a spot in the WNIT. “I wouldn’t want to play us when we’re right,” Kielsmeier said. “When we’re right.”