ST. LOUIS — Three straight Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles — the last two outright — didn’t gain Illinois State’s women’s basketball team much respect Tuesday.
The Redbirds were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll of league coaches, sports information directors and media released during the Valley’s Media Day.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t give us motivation,” said Redbird senior guard Amanda Clifton, one of two returning starters. “I really don’t know what to say about that. We’ll take it and see what happens when the games start.”
ISU did gain two first-place votes, but was picked to finish behind Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Creighton.
Missouri State, which is led by unanimous Preseason Player of the Year Casey Garrison, collected 27 of 40 first-place votes. Five teams had at least one first-place vote.
First-year ISU coach Stephanie Glance, who was hired when Robin Pingeton left for Missouri, took the preseason ranking in stride. She realizes ISU lost three 1,000-point scorers plus is undergoing a coaching change.
Glance said it probably will take a whole season for her staff to get a “true feel” of the Valley. But from watching ISU game films from last season, Glance knows it won’t be easy.
“I think the league is pretty balanced and competitive from top to bottom,” she said. “I think the players in the league are very skilled. Perhaps a difference from the ACC and SEC is really size and athleticism.
“But, really, the Valley has very skilled players, good shooters and passers. They play at a high level.”
The Redbirds have been practicing since Oct. 4 and will see different faces for the first time Saturday when they hold a closed scrimmage against Marquette in Milwaukee. ISU’s lone exhibition is Nov. 2 against Illinois-Springfield before the season opener Nov. 12 at Illinois.
“We’re learning a lot so we haven’t had time to click as a group or team,” said Clifton. “But I still think there’s enough time before our games to do that, and we’re close enough off the court I don’t think that will be a problem.”
Missouri State returns all five starters from last year’s third-place squad. Garrison, a junior guard, is the league’s active leader in points (1,134), free throws (285), assists (258) and steals (153).
Garrison’s teammate, junior guard Jaleshia Roberson, joined her on the preseason all-conference team along with UNI’s Lizzie Boeck and Jacqui Kalin and Creighton’s Sam Schuett.
“We have high expectations and high hopes, but we also understand it’s about day-in and day-out consistency and not just about game nights,” said Missouri State coach Nyla Milleson. “That’s something that plagued us last year is that half to half we weren’t sure who was going to show up. They understand that a little more in practice.”
School (first-place votes) Total
1. Missouri State (27) 385
2. UNI (3) 329
3. Creighton (7) 328
4. Illinois State (2) 258
5. Wichita State 226
6, Bradley (1) 204
7. Drake 180
8. Indiana State 150
9. Southern Illinois 83
10. Evansville 57
Preseason all-conference team: Lizzie Boeck, UNI; Casey Garrison, Missouri State; Jacqui Kalin, UNI; Jaleshia Roberson, Missouri State; Sam Schuett, Creighton.