Illinois State University women’s basketball took to the court once more on Wednesday morning for the first official practice of the 2020-21 season.
The season is slated to begin in late November, as the Redbirds anticipate playing six non-conference games prior to their Missouri Valley Conference regular season play. Road games are scheduled against in-state rivals Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Western Illinois. Doug Collins Court will play host to Saint Louis, North Dakota and possibly Dayton.
The Redbirds finished last season 19-10 (11-7 MVC) but missed the opportunity to compete in Hoops in the Heartland due to the pandemic hitting in early March. Head coach Kristen Gillespie had hoped the program would reach the elusive 20 wins last year and realizes they likely will not have that opportunity this upcoming season.
“If we play 20 games, I will be ecstatic. Right now, though, we are focusing on what we can control,” Gillespie said.
The Redbirds are predicted to finish fifth in the preseason MVC poll and despite heavy losses due to graduation, the program has a history of finishing higher than the polls. This season, the Redbirds lose Tete Maggett, Megan Talbot and dual-sport athlete Lexi Wallen. The three alumnae accounted for half of the team’s point production during the previous season. The landscape of the team is anticipated to be much different for the upcoming season.
“I think it is going to be a more well spread out offense. We are going to have different people each night be the leading scorer, which will be a nice change,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie believes that senior Juliunn Redmond will step in to fill some of the gaps left from those seniors. The reigning Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year averaged 11.1 points per game in her Redbird debut season. Redmond is expected to lead a talented group of upperclassmen to help guide the program’s success.
“JuJu [Redmond] will probably be at the face of our program right now—that lead scorer,” Gillespie stated. “I thought that Paige Saylor scored the ball really well down the stretch, she has to do that for us. Mary Crompton is one of the better shooters in the league. Mary has gotten much better; she was good last year, and she has added a lot to her game.”
One new face expected to play a key role for the Redbirds this winter is DeAnna Wilson, who along with Terrion Moore and redshirts Maya Wong and Ally Gietzel will each have a hand in the Redbirds’ pursuit of a winning 2020-21 campaign.
With the first practice in the books—looking much different and much later than usual—the program is shifting its focus to what it can control in the moment. Gillespie encourages the women to take it day by day and build quality bonds with one another.
“We are a relationship program. I think our wins and our success is based on all that time and all that effort we put into our women, on and off the court.”