After closing out the regular season as winners of four games in a row, Illinois State University women’s basketball (19-10, 11-7 MVC) finished one of the best seasons in recent history, and the team was flying high into the postseason, prepping for a date with destiny.
As it turns out, destiny had other ideas, and that date for the Redbirds has been put on hold.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the nation, professional sports began to suspend their leagues, soon to be followed by NCAA men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments.
One by one, conferences made the announcements sports fans were dreading to hear, it was only a matter of time before the Missouri Valley Conference’s domino was set to fall.
The NCAA announced intercollegiate competitions, not just for basketball, but all athletics had been canceled through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Just like that, the remainder of men’s and women’s college sports ceased to exist.
Among the casualties was the annual Hoops in the Heartland Tournament.
Illinois State capped off a strong season as winners in six of its last eight contests, including a 78-66 upset over first place and nationally ranked No. 21 Missouri State (26-4, 16-2 MVC).
The Redbirds went into the postseason as the fourth seed, set to take on Northern Iowa (18-11, 10-8 MVC) whom they had defeated in two previous meetings earlier in the season.
It looked as if the stars were aligned for Illinois State to make a deep run, instead like the rest of the world during this time, they will have to wait for things to get back to normal before they get another shot.
In her third year at the helm, head coach Kristen Gillespie once again had the program trending upward. The Redbirds had consecutive seasons with 19 wins for the first time since the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns.
Shortly after the tournament cancellation had been announced, Gillespie tweeted the following statement:
“Heartbroken would be an understatement for how I’m feeling right now. It has been an absolute joy to coach this group. I’m so proud of what they accomplished on the court, in the classroom & in our community. Thank you for giving me one of the best seasons of my life. Love you all!”
While the result of the cancellation is disappointing for fans, the season for Illinois State women’s basketball isn’t one to be forgotten.
Four Redbirds were honored with 2020 All-Missouri Valley Conference recognitions. Seniors TeTe Maggett and Lexi Wallen were both All-MVC First Team selections with Juliunn Redmond recognized as All-MVC Honorable Mention. Junior Paige Saylor was also named to the All-Defensive Team for the second time in her career.
A native of North Chicago, Maggett notched All-MVC First Team for the second time in as many seasons with the Redbirds. The senior ranked top 10 in several statistical categories in the conference including 15.1 points per game (sixth), 6.4 rebounds per game seventh), 3.9 assists per game (sixth) and 34 minutes per game (second). Maggett poured in a career-high 33 points on Dec. 4 in a win over Western Illinois.
The other half of the scoring duo which consistently carried the Redbirds this season was Wallen who led the team in scoring with 17.2 points per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. The senior made the transition to basketball after playing four years of volleyball for the Redbirds. Wallen was a consistent threat in the low post, tallying double-digit scoring in 25 of 29 games this season to finish third in the conference in scoring as well as 19th nationally in field goal percentage.
This season will be the final in the collegiate careers for Maggett and Wallen joined by fellow seniors Megan Talbot and Frannie Corrigan.
In addition to an honorable mention, Redmond was named MVC Newcomer of the Year as well as Sixth Player of the Year for a season which she averaged 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. The junior is the only player to claim both awards in the same season. Redmond led the team with 54 steals and proved to be a spark for the Redbirds off the bench, often getting timely baskets or making hustle plays away from the ball to fuel her team.
Redmond will be among the key returners for ISU, along with Saylor, three-point specialist Mary Crompton, and 6-foot-2 forward Lexy Koudelka.
The heart and hustle mentality were a staple for ISU this season, preached by Gillespie and embodied through the team on the court. Win or lose, the effort was always there for the Redbirds.
While we won’t know the true outcome of this season for the Redbirds, we are left with a few certainties.
Illinois State has the coaching, and pieces moving forward to build off another successful campaign.
If next season is anything like the last three with Gillespie, there is only direction the Redbirds are bound to go from here: up.