A Matter Of Fact

Caity Matter is back for one more go-round with the OSU women's basketball team, and this year, the goals are higher than ever. Matter talked yesterday about this season as well as the tragedy she had to overcome last year. Kyle Lamb has more.

Some of her teammates are bigger, while some are stronger. Some of them might be faster, and some of them might get more of the headlines. But as a matter of fact, this is still her team -- Caity Matter's team.

It's also no laughing matter.

In fact, this Matter is a very serious one. The 5-8, 165-lb senior from Bluffton, Ohio has unfinished business to take care of, and when you get to the heart of the matter, history demands you take her seriously.

Puns and clichés cannot do justice to how important Matter is to the Ohio State women's basketball team. Last season, she accounted for 14.8 points a game by scoring over 20 points on nine separate occasions, leading the team in scoring.

Known as a 3-point specialist, Matter made 106 3-pointers her sophomore season in receiving the honor of the Edward S. Seitz award, given annually for the best outside shooter in the country.

Matter followed up the tremendous season by making 73 threes last season as a junior, shooting 34.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Ohio State head coach Jim Foster considers that trend as a positive thing for his basketball team, as others become consistent scoring options.

"She may have a better season (this year) and score less," Foster explained. "I think the reality is that we hope we are a good enough basketball team that we don't need to have someone score more individually."

Matter began excelling as a junior in high school at Bluffton. In 1999, she won the Division III state player of the year, finishing second in the balloting for Ms. Ohio Basketball.

However, in the off-season before her senior year, many felt she would be lost in the shuffled after reconstructive knee surgery dampened her hopes of many awards and most importantly, scholarships.

In 2000, despite the damaging surgery, Matter only defied the odds by coming back to not only win the Division III player of the year award once again, averaging 24.7 points a game and leading her team to a Division III runner-up, but winning Ms. Ohio by the Ohio Coaches Association.

It was the first time any Division III player had ever won Ms. Ohio, and she did so despite a knee surgery that would have sunk many.

As Matter left high school, she did so not only holding many prestigious basketball awards but also excelling in track-and-field.

Matter was a two-time state champion in both the women's shot put and discus, the former of which she threw a personal high of 45 feet and nine inches. Just to add to Matter's resume, she currently holds the Ohio State team record in running the mile.

Following a freshman campaign where Matter was a solid contributor during Ohio State's women's NIT run, a fractured metatarsal in her left foot forced her to take a medical redshirt in what would have been her sophomore season.

Just as she always has done, Matter bounced back.

Matter averaged 15.4 points a game in the 2002-2003 season on her way to being recognized as the nation's premier 3-point shooter. Last season, however, was a disappointment in many ways for Matter.

A slow start by the Buckeyes spoiled their dreams of winning the Big Ten title. Ohio State started the Big Ten by going just 2-4 in its first six games. That was only compounded a few weeks later by personal tragedy for Matter -- ten times worse to cope with than any injury.

On February 14th, Matter's younger brother Ricky, a star freshman quarterback at Bluffton High School, was killed in a car accident. Matter, however, refused to let her sorrows stop her from playing. Just one night later, she still played a game against Michigan State scoring 23 points in a 72-53 victory.

"It wasn't tough to play because that's just how my brother and I were," Matter said. "There was never a doubt in my mind that I would keep going with the season."

She kept going, and then some. Ohio State finished the regular season by winning nine of their final 10 games, including a 5-0 record after Ricky's death, to pull their Big Ten record to 11-5. Matter was Ohio State's leading scorer in three of the five games.

Once again, however, Matter wasn't satisfied with being anything short of the best. Ohio State lost in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals to top-seeded Purdue, 67-61 in a game they led much of the way.

The biggest heartache, however, was losing on their home St. John Arena floor in the second round of the NCAA tournament in March. The third-seeded Buckeyes lost to Boston College, a six seed, 63-48, ending Ohio State's season.

Even with the Buckeyes being voted preseason number one by the Big Ten coaches, Matter feels they have much to prove this year.

"The second round exit was not something we wanted and leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth," Matter said. "You can't take anything for granted. You just have to respect who you are playing and take it one game at a time and one practice at a time."

As Matter is asked to score less this season, she will be expected to take freshman Marscilla Packer, a McDonald's All-American from Pickerington, under her wing.

Much like Matter, Packer is a talented shooter who will have quite lofty expectations. Packer, however, will have the luxury of not being forced in to action right away, and be able to watch Matter do her thing -- overcoming adversity.

The next practical step for Matter is a Big Ten championship and even a National Championship. Playing in the WNBA is not something she denies shooting for, however.

"Obviously, I need to work on my defense and the variety of shots that I'm taking," Matter analyzed. "I've worked hard and gotten myself in better shape this year."

There's very little stopping Matter at this point, and Matter isn't willing to accept any obstacles. To many, the series of obstacles she's already overcome would have derailed most players.

But she's not like most players.

Championships, playing professional ball, and recovering from serious knee operations all seem like challenging tasks to most. But to Matter, it's a way of life.

Don't bet against Matter defying the odds. She's done so before, and likely to do so again.

That's just a matter of fact.

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