ST. LOUIS — The goal for Illinois State's women's basketball team isn't to finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference this season.
However, being picked for seventh place in the preseason MVC poll released Tuesday was actually higher than first-year ISU coach Kristen Gillespie or senior forward Hannah Green envisioned. The Redbirds are coming off an 8-23 season in which they were ninth in the MVC with a 4-14 mark.
“I'm not sure (what I expected), but we'll take it,” said Gillespie during the league's Media Day activities at the St. Louis City Center Hotel. “Those polls are always really hard. You're rolling off last year and you put Valpo in the mix which a lot of people are not familiar with.”
Voting was done by league coaches, media and sports information directors.
Green said seventh is “better than we expected and hopefully we can change some opinions by end of season.”
There was no surprise at the team picked at the top.
Drake, which went 18-0 in the MVC last season and won the MVC Tournament title, is the favorite. The Bulldogs picked up 31 of 40 first-place votes and 356 points. Missouri State got seven first-place votes and 323 points, while UNI was third with the remaining two first-place votes and 311 points.
SIU is fourth, followed by Indiana State, Bradley, ISU, Evansville, Valpo and Loyola.
“You don't think about being 18-0. It's a new team,” said Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk, who lost MVC Player of the Year Lizzy Wendell. “That really was a fun year. We had a great story. The biggest thing for us this year is to separate ourselves from a year ago. We have some similar pieces, but it's also about separating day by day.”
Missouri State senior guard Liza Fruendt was selected the Preseason Player of the Year. The rest of the first team included Drake's Sammie Bachrodt and Becca Hittner, SIU's Kylie Giebelhausen and UNI's Ellie Howell.
Gillespie said she watched a lot of film of the Redbirds in MVC last season to “get familiarity with the league and what kind of defenses we'll see and with our recruiting.”
Particularly, Gillespie wanted to see “what type of players win this league.”
“You see a lot of kids who are multi-talented and can score in a lot of different ways,” she said. “That's kind of what we've been trying to recruit this summer, players who know the game, play hard, compete and make shots.”
Green averaged 6.6 points and 5.4 rebounds last season in her first year with the Redbirds.
“Just knowing what teams look like and who to look out for” should make it easier the second time around for her, said Green.
“It helps me understand what I can do personally coming into every game and what I can do to help my team,” she said.
ISU will hold a closed scrimmage Sunday against Eastern Illinois at Redbird Arena before its lone exhibition game at home against Eureka College next Wednesday. The Redbirds open the season Nov. 11 at Oakland (Mich.).
“We're just trying every day to worry about ourselves and control what we control,” said Gillespie. “We can't control how people vote, positive or negative. We're just trying to get better every single day.”