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Marshall closing in on Sun Belt title in Caldwell’s first season

If all goes well for the Marshall women’s basketball on their two-game road trip this weekend, the Thundering Herd could be well on their way to a Sun Belt Conference regular season championship.

Marshall (17-6, 11-1 Sun Belt) leads the league by two full games over James Madison and Troy with six games to play. The Thundering Herd have already equalled their win total from last season.

First-year head coach Kim Caldwell is not surprised that her team has played better basketball during the back half of their schedule. Implementing her unique style of uptempo offense, pressure defense and frequent substitutions isn’t conducive to immediate success.

“You are just reteaching a lot of things. You are telling people to run forward on defense instead of run back on defense. You are subbing people out when a lot of the time, people are getting subbed out for making a mistake. We are subbing them out so we can keep him in the game longer and we can keep them fresh,” Caldwell said on Tuesday’s edition of MetroNews Talkline.

“A lot of basketball things they have spent 15 years learning, they had to relearn. That took some time to get them comfortable playing at this pace. They are allowed to shoot it quick. You are allowed to make mistakes and play through it because we are going to have so many possessions.”

Marshall started the season with a 2-4 record before defeating Florida, 91-88 in Huntington.

“November was ugly but we survived it. Thankfully, things have started to jell at the right time for us.”

Frankfort High School graduate Abby Beeman engineers a Marshall offense that is averaging 84 points per game. Caldwell is more impressed with the 5-foot-4 guard’s rebounding (6 per game) and assist totals (140).

“Her points are her points. She can score any type of way. But the fact the she is our leading rebounder and she leads us in assists, she has had three triple-doubles this year, she loves basketball and is a special kid. I wish I could coach an Abby Beeman every year.”

Fairmont Senior graduate Meredith Maier has elevated her level of play since the start of the conference schedule.

“It took her the month of November to figure it out. Once it clicked, it clicked. We’ve had some injuries. Mahogany Matthews is out. So she has really stepped up big. The day we found out that [Matthews] wasn’t going to be with us for a while, I think Meredith had 20 points. She has been playing really well ever since. She has been in the gym. She is a selfless player and she will do anything for her teammates.”

Marshall returns to action Thursday after an eight-day break, their longest stretch off the court during their conference schedule. Caldwell says keeping the team sharp was a focus during the off-week.

“We worked them a little harder. A lot of people probably expected us to let them get away. But I told them, ‘Hey, in three weeks, you can be away as long as you want. We can rest. We don’t have to do a lot in the postseason. Let’s just finish what we tried to start’. So we practiced pretty hard.

“We had Sunday off. It was weird. I thought I was really going to like it but it is a little bit weird having this long of a break when you were catching your stride.”

The Thundering Herd visit Appalachian State Thursday at noon. Their two-game weekend trip continues Saturday at Old Dominion. Marshall’s next four games are on the road. The Thundering Herd has already defeated both of their next two opponents in Huntington.

“We’re playing a pretty high elevation. It is Kids Day. It is a doubleheader (with the men’s teams). And then we go to ODU. We have the toughest part of our schedule at the end.”

Caldwell led Glenville State to the 2022 NCAA Division II National Championship and a spot in the Final Four a year later prior to arriving at Marshall. She continues to build on the legacy of her father, the late Scott Stephens. Stephens won three Class AAA state championships and 254 games in 16 seasons as the head coach at Parkersburg South.

“It has been very important for me to stay in this state. That has a lot more to do with my dad and the legacy he built in this state. Every time I would walk into a gym with him, everyone would know who he was. The fact that he was 6-foot-10 didn’t hurt.

“I didn’t want to go somewhere and almost start over. I wanted to be in this state and be somewhere where they care about women’s basketball. People will support you and you’ll have fans in the seats. We definitely had that at Glenville. We certainly had it at Parkersburg South. We’re starting to grow it here.”

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