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CSU women's basketball team excels on and off the court

Colbi Maples (11), wearing a white Cleveland State #11 uniform, dribbles on the basketball court.
Frank Jansky
Cleveland State University Athletics
Cleveland State Vikings guard and engineering major Colbi Maples (11) is among several transfer players who have excelled this season.

The Cleveland State University women’s basketball team is having another stellar season. Coming off of last year’s NCAA Tournament berth, the 27-4 Vikings clinched their first ever Horizon League regular-season title.

They begin Horizon League tournament play on Thursday with another trip to the Big Dance in their sights.

“Simply, Cleveland State's women's basketball program in the last three years has a combined record of 80 and 18. I mean, these are the best times of Cleveland State women's basketball ever,” Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said.

It’s been an unlikely journey to the top for this year’s team. Six games into the season, their star player, Destiny Leo, suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“Destiny Leo was the Horizon League Player of the Year last season. She's from Eastlake North. She was, kind of, the player that helped turn the program all around. And this year they were, like, five and one when she got hurt. And as several of the women that I interviewed told me, they said 'Our identity was built around her.' She was their safety blanket. And then she gets hurt, and they found a way around it anyway,” Pluto said.

The team relied heavily on the transfer portal heading into this season, and Pluto said that made all the difference.

One of the players they acquired is junior guard Colbi Maples, who played two years at Grambling State and entered the transfer portal following a coaching change.

“Now she was an engineering major. So along with shopping for a Division I place to play, she wanted to play a Division I level where the engineering department was good. So, Cleveland State reached out to her. They spotted her name on the transfer portal. They had no idea who she was," Pluto said.

Pluto said that while Maples was averaging around nine points per game at Grambling, she’s been averaging 16 points per game at CSU.

The team also acquired senior guard Mickayla Perdue from Springfield, Ohio.

“Cleveland State's been trying to get her for a while. They recruited her out of high school, but she went to Toledo instead. And this is what happens: Sometimes, you go there for a couple of years. She just didn't play. Then she played a year in Division II, Glenville State. She went in the transfer portal. Cleveland State tried once again to bring her in. This time she came, and she's become their leading scorer. She wasn't even starting until Destiny Leo was hurt. (She) stepped into the lineup and is averaging like 17 points,” Pluto said.

Along with Maples, CSU has several other engineering majors, including senior guard Sara Guerreiro and fifth-year guard Carmen Villalobos, who both have 3.8 GPAs.

And Pluto said sixth-year head coach Chris Kielsmeier has used that to his advantage.

“Cleveland State has, in some ways, has a defense made for engineers. So, you got three engineers among your top six to play. They play this — it's a zone defense — but it's very complicated with a lot of switching. And forget Xs and Os. You probably need things to the seventh power and everything else to lay out how they play it," Pluto said. "It’s very effective, but you got to know what you're doing. In the meantime, this team has like about a 3.4 GPA. I mean, it's a phenomenal story.”

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