Two months ago, injuries had compromised the depth of the Illinois State women's basketball team to the extent Coach Kristen Gillespie asked a Redbird volleyball player to join her ranks.
The return from ailments of guard Paige Saylor and forward Megan Talbot, along with the pleasant surprise of former outside hitter Lexi Wallen turning into a legitimate contributor, has Gillespie singing the praises of her newfound options.
“This week has been so much fun with practice because it has been so competitive,” said Gillespie. “When Paige and Meg and Mary (Crompton) were out, we had to go against guys quite a bit. This week we did five-on-five. We’re starting to come together a little bit.”
Gillespie has been able to deepen her rotation heading into a road weekend that features Missouri Valley Conference games at Indiana State at 6 p.m. (Central) Friday and at Evansville at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Talbot started 26 of 30 games last season and averaged 7.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. She played in the Nov. 11 season opener and returned from a broken left foot on Jan. 6 to play five minutes against Drake.
“It’s a slow process. We want to be really smart about her foot,” said Gillespie, whose team is 8-5 overall and 1-1 in the MVC. “She is going to get in that rotation. Meg is just so smart. She is probably our best post perimeter defender.
“It’s just her conditioning. She doesn’t have her legs right now. Her shot is a little short. And she’s still limited to 15 minutes up and down (the court) in practice.”
A 6-foot-2 junior, Talbot still feels occasional twinges in her foot but is ready to put the injury behind her.
“I haven’t felt any sharp pains. Sometimes it feels kind of sore, but I just play through it,” she said. “I was out for eight weeks and it seemed like forever. Being back on the court with my teammates just felt good.”
Talbot’s return and the emergence of Wallen affords Gillespie the “luxury” of four post players.
The Redbird coach plans to utilize leading scorer Simone Goods and freshman Lexy Koudelka at the five (center) position with Wallen and Talbot at a forward.
That also allows freshman Kayel Newland to see time on the perimeter after helping inside as of late.
“It’s just nice we have some options,” said Gillespie. “It’s fun to be able to compete against each other and know what I’m doing in practice will determine how much I play. When we didn’t have great depth, they were going to play (regardless). That’s not the case anymore.”
Indiana State stands at 7-6 overall and 1-1 in league play, while Evansville is 2-11 and 0-2, respectively.
“They have a new coach (Vicki Hall),” Gillespie said of the Sycamores. “What they do really well is they throw four or five types of defense at you. What they may lack in offensive depth, they try to create some offense through their defense.”
Indiana State’s top scorer is 5-foot-5 junior Ashli O’Neal at 14.2 points per game. Tamara Lee, a 5-8 senior, adds 10.9. The Sycamores have won five straight home games over the Redbirds.