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Women’s Basketball Preview: Chmiel era begins as Falcons start 2023-24 campaign

Lexi+Fleming+and+Amy+Velasco+fired+up+after+a+basket.
Drake Harlett
Lexi Fleming and Amy Velasco fired up after a basket.

It seems like just yesterday, Falcon fans were witnessing the magical run that Bowling Green Women’s Basketball put together a season ago. 

31 wins, tying a school and Mid-American Conference record, making it to the MAC title game in Cleveland, and, despite the loss to Toledo, a run of four straight WNIT wins that featured thousands of orange and white shirts all throughout the Stroh Center.

A team powered by the offensive prowess of Elissa Brett, the new record holder in steals in Nyla Hampton, and the engine of energy in Jocelyn Tate, BGSU was poised to run things back and make some more magic happen with the same squad. 

But then, the pieces started leaving. 

“The transition was hard,” said fifth-year senior Morgan Sharps. “We were so close, no matter if it was the coaching staff, managers, team. But those girls are some of my best friends. Obviously it’s a little bitter having them leave for other schools, but at the end of the day I want the best for them.”

We start with former head coach Robyn Fralick, who left BG to head home to East Lansing to coach the Michigan State Spartans, where she grew up just minutes away from the campus in Okemos. 

But she’s not the only Falcon to head north to don the green and white, as Fralick was able to nab Tate with her. 

Speaking of the state of Michigan, Brett also left the program and made her way an hour north to Ann Arbor, where the fifth-year senior from Adelaide, Australia now is a part of the Michigan Wolverines. 

Oh, and then there’s Hampton, who made the surprising decision to leave the program, but stay in the MAC, as the 2022-23 MAC Defensive Player of the Year committed to Ball State. 

Add in the graduation of starting forward Allison Day, as well as forwards Payton Moore and future BG hall-of-famer Kadie Hempfling, and you have a team that is going to look a lot different this coming season.

So yeah, that’s a lot of firepower to replace.

“It’s difficult, with the amount of points and rebounds that walked out the door, to replace them,” said head coach Fred Chmiel. “There’s some growth that has to happen with your current roster and then you have to have an influx of talent to match that.”

In the current world of name, image and likeness (NIL), athletes that showcase dominance in the mid-major level of collegiate athletics are more likely than not to leave those schools and play for power five conference teams, so the losses that BG has suffered from a personnel perspective are not surprising. 

But now, there’s a chance for BG to create new magic for themselves, and the magician that gets to initiate the acts?

Chmiel, a former assistant coach of one of the nation’s top programs.

Chmiel was introduced as the 10th head coach in program history on April 8 after spending eight seasons under legendary head coach Dawn Staley and the blue blood South Carolina Gamecocks. 

“She’s an extreme competitor,” said Chmiel. “She has a large amount of compassion, and I think as hard as she coaches, her players she loves just as much, so I’m going to try and mimic that as well.”

During Chmiel’s tenure with the Gamecocks, South Carolina reached the NCAA Tournament 15 times, making the Sweet 16 seven times, the Final Four three times, as well as winning two national titles. 

Being around a program like SC, and then coming to a mid-major like BGSU, can be quite the culture change for a first-time Division I head coach like Chmiel.

However, the values learned from a coach like Staley should be priceless for a team that had plenty of their own success recently. 

“She’s always been great to me and has allowed me many opportunities, including this one (home game versus South Carolina),” said Chmiel. “It’s a great chance for the Bowling Green community to see a top five team and a hall-of-fame coach.”

That’s right; this Bowling Green team, as will be mentioned later on, gets the chance to face off with the nationally ranked Gamecocks at the Stroh this year. Next year, the Falcons will travel down south to return the favor with the SEC powerhouse.

But speaking of the team, although many faces are gone from last year, plenty of new faces have arrived, and some of last season’s historic team still remain. 

Let’s review a few. 

LEXI FLEMING

We start with the soul captain of the team, Lexi Fleming, who begins her fourth season overall with the team, and third active year with the orange and brown. 

For fans who do not know, Fleming, just days prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, suffered a season-ending knee injury. 

So although this season designates Fleming as a “senior”, she still has three years of athletic eligibility remaining, which is music to the ears of Falcon fans. 

Why? Fleming’s relentless defense, as last season, the Cincinnati native finished fourth in the MAC in steals (67), while snagging 94 overall.

“Lexi has been a great leader,” said Chmiel. “Even during the summer, she’s brought that group together and she’s the reason why these freshmen are so tightly knit and engrained within our team.”

She can also shoot the rock, as Fleming finished the season second on the team in three-point field goals (51), and was an above average free throw shooter, finishing with a 78.7% percentage from the line. 

But what should excite fans even more than the numbers is the fact that Fleming has had another offseason to get her knee into better shape, which should make her an even more versatile and effective player. 

AMY VELASCO

We then get to Fleming’s fellow backcourt mate, Amy Velasco, who begins her third season with the orange and brown after a dominant end to her sophomore campaign. 

Last season, the Centerville native was Ms. Reliable, making an appearance in all 38 games, while making five starts as well.

“Amy just leads everyday by example,” said Chmiel. 

Velasco figures to be the director of the Falcon offense, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as a season ago, the junior shot 38.7% from the field, and is currently 13th in program history in assists per game (2.87). 

Fans also have a fond memory of the last two outings Velasco registered, as she put up back-to-back double-digit scoring outings in the final two games of the WNIT run (18 versus Florida, 19 versus Columbia).

MORGAN SHARPS

The one area that BG is going to look to improve upon is getting another consistent knockdown three-point shooter, as the team looks to replace Brett’s 94 deep balls, which was the second most made in the MAC, just shy of Ball State’s Thelma Dis Agustdottir’s 102. 

Enter Sharps, who only played 17 games last season due to a season-ending knee injury suffered on Jan.18 against Toledo. 

But, just in case your mind is rusty, let me remind you that prior to the injury, Sharps was knocking down threes left and right, recording 41 threes in just those 17 games. 

If she would have hypothetically remained healthy, Sharps’ pace would have put her to 74, which would have placed her fifth in the MAC. 

The good news for Falcon fans is that she’s back and ready to score, and my goodness is she efficient doing so, as her career three-point field goal percentage is 42.3%, good for fourth overall in program history. 

“I had one more year left and I wanted to take advantage of it and get back healthy,” said Sharps. “We knew that Coach Chmiel, Coach Maggie (Lucas), Coach Nick (DiPillo) and everyone coming in and their history of being in the WNBA, being at power five schools, was a great opportunity.” 

THE REST

Fair enough to say that those three are going to be featured players for Chmiel and the new staff? 

Most would probably agree, but with the kind of offseason that BG has had, Falcon fans now get the chance to see a few new faces don the orange and brown, as well as see potentially elevated roles for the other returning members. 

Let’s spotlight a few. 

ERIKA PORTER:

When schools such as Baylor and Illinois want you to be a part of their program, you know that you have a lot of athletic talent. 

That is exactly what senior forward Erika Porter brings to this Bowling Green team-

Size, toughness, athleticism. 

Porter comes to BGSU after spending her freshman and sophomore seasons at Illinois and her junior season at Baylor. 

As a freshman, the West Windsor, N.J. native saw action in 17 games and a pair of starts. She shot 52.4 percent from the field and was ranked second on the team in blocked shots.

In her sophomore year, Porter played in 23 games and made 12 starts for the Illini. She averaged 4.2 points and 2.3 boards in 13.0 minutes per game. She also led the team in blocks in the ’22-23 campaign, and scored a career-high 15 points in Illinois’ win over Wisconsin in the opening round of the 2022 Big Ten Tournament.

After transferring to Baylor, the numbers dipped a bit, but Porter still was able to play in 15 games for the Bears.

Overall in her collegiate career, Porter is averaging 2.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 48.2% field goal percentage across 55 games, but those numbers are expected to increase with Porter dropping from the Power Five level to the mid-major. 

PAIGE KOHLER:

An exciting prospect to watch develop under Chmiel, Kohler comes to BGSU after decommitting from fellow MAC school Buffalo in April. 

The Olmsted Falls graduate brings a very impressive resume to BG, which includes being named a two-time All-Ohio First-Team selection, as well as being Cleveland.com’s Player of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to the Division I state championship game and a 25-4 overall record in ’22-23.

But now as a college freshman, all Kohler is doing is impressing her teammates everyday.

“She’s just been very consistent and has been a leader of the freshmen,” said Olivia Hill. “She’s very vocal, taking charge, and just plays super hard and aggressive.”

With any freshman, there may be a waiting period until the debut, but expect the versatile Kohler to make an impact in big ways for years to come. 

OLIVIA HILL: 

Another member of the returning crop from last year’s team, Hill starts her senior year after seeing a significant rise in playing time during her junior campaign. 

The Palatine, Ill. native made an appearance in 35 games last season, compared to just 17 in ‘21-22. 

Overall, the numbers may not be eye-popping, as she only averaged 1.3 points and 1.7 rebounds a night for the orange and brown, but her eagerness to be back makes her a valuable commodity both on and off the floor. 

“It’s the culture of BGSU; the professors, the players and the community,” said Hill. “The run we had last year was just crazy, so just being around that environment just made me want to come back.”

FEATURED GAMES:

With all the new faces on the floor and a new era of BGSU Women’s Basketball, Falcon fans are not only going to be treated to learning new players, but they also get to watch the Falcons battle some of the nation’s top programs.

“We look forward to the rigorous schedule that we have,” said Chmiel. “It’s gonna be tough, there’s a lot of tough games on there, some road games that are coming up really quick, but I think we’re really excited and we’re ready to go.”

A look at some of the featured games to watch as the season gets underway:

Games to Watch:

  • vs Cleveland State (Nov. 7): Home opener for Chmiel and the Falcons. 


  • @ Iowa (Dec. 2): Nationally-televised game (Fox Sports 1) for the Falcons as they face AP National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark and the national runner-up Hawkeyes.


  • vs South Carolina (Dec. 19): The 2022 national champions come to town right before Christmas for a battle with the Falcons. Chmiel was previously the assistant coach for the Gamecocks and head coach Dawn Staley.


  • @ Indiana (Dec. 22): A rematch from last season, the Falcons travel to Bloomington to face the Hoosiers, who finished 7th in the national coaches poll.


  • @ Toledo (Feb. 3): A rematch of the 2022-23 MAC Championship, the Falcons travel to Savage Arena for part one of the “Battle of I-75”

So with all that, now all Falcon fans can do is wait. 

Watching the clock as it ticks away at the final hours until the season tip-off.

In just a few days, BGSU will once again experience a  rocking Stroh Center, Jerry Anderson commanding the public address announcer microphone, “Ziggyville” ready to jump out of their seats on each and every play, all of the excitement is approaching in just a few short days. 

Here’s the question though- can the Falcons rekindle the fire that was sparked last year? 

That may be tough to do, especially with the MAC featuring top-tier teams such as Toledo, Ball State, and an up-and-coming Kent State squad.

But know this- BGSU has the potential to be electric once again; it just may take a little bit of time to see it happen again. 

What will Falcon fans see though?

Relentless effort. 

“Effort is non-negotiable,” said Chmiel. “It’s always going to be extreme effort and maximum effort. We expect that daily from the moment you step on the floor until the moment you step off.”

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn). 

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