Kristen Gillespie would love for her entire Illinois State women’s basketball team to be healthy for her first regular season game as Redbird coach.
That is a wish, however, that will not be granted as ISU heads to Rochester, Mich., on Saturday. The Redbirds will meet Oakland in a noon nonconference game at the Athletics Center O’Rena.
“There is always a little bit of apprehension. You want to make sure you’ve got the team as prepared as can be,” Gillespie said. “Key injuries have slowed us down a little. But we can’t make excuses. We have to be as prepared as we can be with the healthy players we do have.”
Returning starters Hannah Green and Katrina Beck are not 100 percent. Green has been in and out of practice with a back ailment, while Beck just returned to practice Wednesday after sitting out three weeks with a sprained ankle. ISU also will be without sophomore Morgan VanHyfte (knee).
“Hannah is still not doing great. But I would say Hannah will play,” said Gillespie. “If Katrina is ready to go, she will start. She’s still questionable.”
Gillespie is trying to revive the Redbirds after four straight seasons of 10 or fewer wins.
“We’re trying to control everything we can control,” said the former Lewis University coach. “If we rebound and value the ball, we will put ourselves in position to be in games.”
ISU will start freshman Paige Saylor and junior Viria Livingston at the guards with junior Simone Goods inside. Either Green or Megan Talbot will start at the other post.
Oakland returns three starters from an 18-12 team. Senior guard Taylor Gleason averaged 11.7 points, senior forward Leah Sommerfield 11.1 (and 6.6 rebounds) and senior guard Sha’Keya Graves 9.8. The Golden Grizzlies ranked 19th nationally at 76.6 points per game.
Junior guard Taylor Jones was the team's leading scorer off the bench last season at 15.3 per contest. Oakland was picked third in the Horizon League's preseason poll.
“They are extremely athletic, and they play at a pretty high tempo,” Gillespie said. “That will be a little different than what we try to do. If we can make them take quick shots and rebound, I think we can be competitive on the road.”
The Redbird coach expects “a ton of pressure” from the Oakland defense. “It will be a great test, especially for a freshman point guard (Saylor).”