A packed roster full of potential spread from top to bottom is the Illinois State University women’s basketball team. Well, that was already known, right? I just wanted to state the obvious so that we are on the same page before I dive deeper into how special this Redbird team is.
Sitting at (5-2, 2-2 MVC) has the Redbirds at fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. The latest NET ranking out this season had ISU at No. 37, only trailing MVC Preseason Poll favorite Missouri State (No. 27).
Having endured a hectic road thus far this season, the program has had seven games canceled or postponed, the latest being Valparaiso University on Jan. 1-2. That series has been rescheduled for Jan. 14-15, but the constant changes have not been easy on the Redbirds.
ISU head coach Kristen Gillespie had this to say after being swept by University of Northern Iowa, who replaced Valpo for ISU’s opening conference series.
“We have been in quarantine since August for eight weeks. That’s the tough thing about this year, no one cares. We have games to play, so we have to find a way to overcome and get better every day,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie, who is in her fourth season at the helm, made sure to mention that no excuses will be made during a season where changes are imminent. I do not think there will be many instances where excuses will be needed as the season continues.
Team captain Juliunn Redmond has lived up to the hype during her senior season, soaring out of her bench role from a season ago. Redmond leads the team with 13.4 points per game, but the talent around her is what should be garnering more attention.
The spotlight has shined on redshirt sophomore Mary Crompton. ISU’s three-point specialist has swished in 22 buckets from beyond the arc, shooting a red-hot 58% from downtown. Gillespie seems to have a smile etched on her face each time she talks about Crompton, saying about a month ago, “I would pick Mary over any other shooter in the country.”
The confidence is high not just for Crompton, but blossoming new players joining the Redbirds on the court this season. The guard tandem that sat out a season ago, Terrion Moore and Maya Wong, have had impressive performances for the Redbirds. Moore has been starting at point guard, while Wong has been seeing about 19 minutes off the bench. Both have stepped up to the challenge that Gillespie has presented them, and it makes the team much more well-balanced (and fun to watch).
Currently, ISU’s biggest weakness lies in the paint, but I do not foresee that lasting long. After Lexi Wallen and Megan Talbot graduated in May, a large hole opened at the four and five spots. Junior Lexy Koudelka, sophomore DeAnna Wilson and freshman Kate Bullman have been splitting minutes through ISU’s seven games. Before the season started, the praise bestowed upon both Wilson and Bullman by Gillespie reassured any concerns, but neither have hit their ceiling this season quite yet.
Koudelka has started every game this year, but the junior forward has been dealing with knee problems. If her injuries press on, then Wilson, who averages nine points a game off the bench, might sure up any weakness I had mentioned earlier.
The two losses to UNI may have been a wake-up call to the Redbirds, who hadn’t faced much adversity through their three non-conference games. Responding well with a sweep over Indiana State University this past weekend balanced out the Redbirds conference record, but this is the beginning of something good and dangerous for ISU women’s basketball.
Gillespie and the team will be taking each game one at a time, but from what I have seen this season, as well as last season, Missouri State University may have to make some room at the top in the MVC, this year and those to come.