When Robin Pingeton was named head coach at Illinois State in 2003, she took over a program that was struggling through a time that was not indicative of its successful past. The Redbirds had suffered six-straight losing seasons and had not made the postseason in seven years. Illinois State has a storied women's basketball history and Pingeton's pedigree as a coach made her the perfect fit to revive the women's program.
In her six seasons at Illinois State, Pingeton has not only brought the Redbird program back to the level of success it is used to, she has raised the bar to new heights. Pingeton and her staff have worked tirelessly to make Illinois State one of the most respected and noted programs in the Midwest. That work has more than paid off, as Illinois State has made four postseason appearances, won two State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament titles, two regular-season MVC titles and has had numerous student-athletes receive athletic and academic honors. She has amassed the second-most wins in school history and has led the Redbirds to three-straight 20-win seasons for just the second time ever.
SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS
All three 20-win seasons rank in the top-10 in school history. ISU's 27 wins in 2008-09 were the second-most ever and the 26 wins in 2007-08 the third-most, marking the first-ever consecutive 25-win seasons. In 2007-08, ISU reeled off a 14-game winning streak and posted a school record 10-1 mark in non-conference play. In 2008-09, the Redbirds won their first outright MVC regular-season title in 20 years and posted a school record 14-1 mark at home.
Pingeton recruited and mentored arguably the greatest player in Illinois State history in Kristi Cirone. The guard from Chicago was only the second player in history to be named MVC Player of the Year three times and became the third Illinois State player to be named an All-American, earning the recognition in the last two years of her career. The only ISU player to play in the WNBA, she is also ISU's all-time and single-season record holder in scoring and assists.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
As the cornerstone of Pingeton's leadership style, she began by setting high standards for the program and committing her time and energy to supporting the efforts of everyone involved in Redbird basketball.
She continued by hiring a coaching staff with knowledge, dedication and skills. Most importantly, though, she chose people who shared her belief in Illinois State's basketball potential and her commitment to excellence.
When she arrived at Illinois State, Pingeton instilled confidence and a winning attitude in a group of players who had never won more than eight games in a season. She and her staff convinced those players that they were better than their records showed, and those players bought in quickly. The 2003-04 Redbirds won more games by January 4 than the team had the entire previous season.
The Redbirds posted a 16-13 record in 2003-04, ISU's first winning record since 1996-97, and that was just a hint of what was yet to come. The team's success led to Pingeton earning the Rawlings Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year award, becoming just the second coach to win the award in her first season in the conference.
PRIDE OF THE VALLEY
Pingeton's first State Farm MVC Tournament title came in 2005 and was the definition of a Cinderella story. The eighth-seeded Redbirds arose from a 10-17 record to beat three 20-win teams in 45 hours to capture ISU's first conference tournament title in 16 years. Fueled by the energy of Redbird Arena and Pingeton's eternal optimism, the Redbirds knocked off the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds to advance to the championship game. Jaci McCormack hit arguably the biggest shot in Redbird women's basketball history, a turnaround 15-footer with less than one second left in the title game to beat Indiana State 72-70, and bring home the title.
It was Pingeton's belief that set the tone when she told a press conference the week before the tournament: "In spite of all our team has been through, I think we might be the best 10-16 team in the nation ... and everyone on our team believes we will win the Valley Tournament."
The resurgence of Redbird basketball continued in the 2007-08 season. After winning a share of the conference regular-season title, the Redbirds entered the 2008 MVC Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The high ranking did not ensure victory, the first neutral site tournament in school history was loaded with teams capable of winning it all. Cirone, who was named tournament MVP, and Bracey, who set tournament records for rebounding, led the Redbirds to the title with wins over Southern Illinois, Creighton and Drake - teams that the Redbirds had lost three-straight games against at the end of the regular season.
POSTSEASON: THE FINAL DESTINATION
In her time in Normal, Pingeton has guided the Redbirds to two NCAA Tournaments and two Women's National Invitation Tournaments. Simply reaching the postseason has not been good enough, as the Redbirds have won four games over that span against some of the premiere programs in the nation.
The first NCAA Tournament came in 2005, ISU's first since 1989, following the historic victory in the MVC Tournament. Illinois State faced nationally-ranked Baylor in Seattle and even though the Redbirds lost, they had the closest margin of defeat to the eventual National Champion.
Illinois State has enjoyed great success in the WNIT throughout the history of the tournament and Pingeton brought the Redbirds back to prominence with two trips in three years. In 2007, the Redbirds won an epic triple-overtime game against Rice before falling to South Dakota State in the second round.
In 2008, ISU returned to the NCAA Tournament to take on another national power in Oklahoma, a team many experts predicted could make a run at the Final Four. Even though the Sooners had a great size advantage and led throughout, the Redbirds made a valiant comeback late in the game and nearly pulled off the upset in one of the most exciting games of the tournament.
In 2009, the Redbirds were back in the WNIT, and despite a disappointing loss in the MVC Tournament, they took advantage of the opportunity and went on the deepest and most memorable postseason run in school history. The team regrouped and focused their efforts to beat three teams with strong basketball histories - Louisiana Tech, Marquette and Indiana - to advance to the tournament semifinals. The tremendous turnout of the loyal Redbird fans allowed ISU to host all three games and played a major factor in the team's WNIT run. For the semifinals, the Redbirds visited Kansas at historic Fog Allen Fieldhouse and had a strong comeback in front of a near-sellout crowd to nearly pull off the upset.
The Redbirds proved that they could play with the elite teams of the nation and were far more than the average mid-major program.
STEPPING STONES TO SUCCESS
At St. Ambrose, Pingeton led her alma mater to a 194-76 record in eight seasons, including five trips to the NAIA National Tournament. She was conference coach of the year three times and Kodak District Coach of the Year in 2000.
A 1990 graduate of St. Ambrose, she is the school's all-time scoring leader with 2,502 points, and was an all-American in both basketball and softball. She also played three seasons of professional basketball in the Women's Basketball Association.
Before becoming head coach at St. Ambrose in 1992, Pingeton served on the Drake staff of current Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder.