The steps taken to boost the Illinois State women’s basketball program entering Coach Kristen Gillespie’s second season will be on display Sunday when the Redbirds face Southern Illinois Edwardsville in a 2 p.m. season opener at the Vadalabene Center in Edwardsville.
“There are no do overs now. This is not an exhibition and not a closed scrimmage,” Gillespie said. “I have really liked our team’s focus this week from top to bottom. I think they understand things are about to get revved up.”
After an improvement of six wins to a 14-16 record in Gillespie’s first season, ISU sets out in search of the program’s first winning campaign since 2012-13 with six veterans and six newcomers.
“I really believe our upperclassmen have done a great job setting the tone for our newcomers,” said Gillespie.
The Redbirds return four starters in seniors Katrina Beck and Viria Livingston, junior Megan Talbot and sophomore Paige Saylor along with reigning Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year Simone Goods.
Yet Mary Crompton, a freshman guard, and TeTe Maggett, a junior college transfer guard, combined for 36 points in an 82-55 exhibition win over Division II Quincy last Sunday.
“We knew Mary was going to be ready to go,” Gillespie said. “She plays with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s such a competitor, she’s willing to do anything to help our team win.”
ISU will start Beck, Talbot, Saylor, Goods and Crompton against the Cougars. Maggett and Livingston will come off the bench. Gillespie limited Livingston to 12 minutes against Quincy because of knee soreness.
“You will see Viria play a little more,” said Gillespie. “We were really conservative with her.”
Freshman Kayel Newland will make her debut after sitting out the exhibition while in concussion protocol.
SIUE also is opening its season. The Cougars held off Division III Illinois Wesleyan, 81-71, in an exhibition.
“They are really athletic,” Gillespie said. “We have to be able to handle their pressure.”
SIUE is coached by former Bradley coach Paula Buscher. The Cougars lost their top three scorers from a 17-15 team a year ago.
The top returners are 5-foot-8 senior Jay’nee Alston, 6-3 senior Sydney Bauman and 5-10 sophomore Allie Troeckler.
ISU defeated SIUE, 62-47, last season at Redbird Arena.