SIU hoopster women ready to rumble anew after upset ended last season
Every college basketball season, a number of teams have to deal with strong seasons that end with surprising upset losses, with the teams trying not to let that stain their accomplishments.
That's the case for Southern Illinois University women's basketball, whose best season since 2007 ended last spring with a postseason upset.
"Many of our players acknowledged just assuming that we would come out with a win and didn’t respect the opponent like we should have," Salukis head coach Cindy Stein told Southwest Illinois News. "It is something that all coaches harp on, but unfortunately, it takes a hard lesson to make it sink."
Stein has led the Salukis back to respectability. After a very tough first season, in which the team suffered a series of injuries and finished just 5-25, they've gone 37-25 in two seasons since. That includes going 20-13 last season with a 12-6 record in the Mountain Valley Conference. Stein attributes the improvement to togetherness and hard work.
"The main reason and most important one is every single player bought in to being accountable, coachable and together," Stein said. "They worked extremely hard to get better skilled, in great shape and stronger. You can’t succeed unless everyone believes in each other and the coaches, and fortunately, we had a great group of young ladies that did all those things and valued the little things that make you great."
The Salukis record, as well as making it to the second round of the MVC postseason tournament, earned them a 4-seed in the Women's Basketball Invitational tournament. However, this is where the Salukis' season came to a crashing halt, as they ran into a Western Illinois team that matched them shot for shot and managed to hit a game winner with 0.3 seconds left to pull out the minor upset, 99-97. Coach Stein has told her team since then that the game was a lesson not to assume victory over any opponent.
"I think they will have a better idea of not taking anything for granted and respecting each opponent despite their record and being prepared for a team’s BEST," she said.
Last year's leading scorer, point guard Rishonda Napier, returns as a redshirt senior. Napier averaged 15.5 points per game, playing in and starting all 33 games for the Salukis. She also set a career high with 33 points and tied a school record with seven three-pointers made, in the loss to Western Illinois. Stein is happy to have a player with strong communication skills and leadership at the point-guard position.
“Rondo” is a great communicator and can also use that skill to motivate and inspire her teammates," Stein said. "She has been voted team captain again this year, along with Carlie Corrigan and Kylie Giebelhausen. Playing the point-guard position, being vocal is huge. Rondo also can light it up in that she can get to the rim, shoot the mid-range and has deep range. Her defense is so much better this year too. She is able to demonstrate her leadership through her actions through her various skills combined with her work ethic."
When asked what her goals are for the team this season, Stein responded with a mixture of both athletic and academic goals, reflecting the dual concerns any NCAA coach has. "Our team goals every year are to win the Valley Championship, go to post season, win our home games, get 3.0 GPAs and better, and give our fullest each and every day. Since it is still very early, we are just focused on getting better every day academically, athletically, mentally and socially. We try to keep it pretty simple, and our success will follow when we do all the little things right."
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