Cirone Valley Freshman of the Year
Kristi Cirone, the first Redbird Freshman of the Year in 16 years.
Kristi Cirone, the first Redbird Freshman of the Year in 16 years.

March 9, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - - When Robin Pingeton signed Kristi Cirone to a National Letter of Intent, the Illinois State University head basketball coach knew she had recruited a special player. Now, the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference knows it, too, as the league's coaches, media and media relations representatives elected Cirone the conference's Freshman of the Year.

The other individual honors announced Thursday saw regular-season conference champion Indiana State claim the Jackie Styles Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year in senior guard Melanie Boeglin plus Rawlings Coach of the Year Jim Wiedie. Southern Illinois junior Carlai Moore was the Newcomer of the Year and UNI senior Cassie Hager was Defensive Player of the Year.

Cirone joins Tami Baalke (the 1990 winner) as the only two Illinois State players to earn the league's Freshman of the Year award. As of last week, the 5-foot-8 guard was the only true freshman in the nation leading her team in both scoring and assists (Tennessee's Candace Parker and Montana's Mandy Morales are both redshirt freshmen topping their teams). If she continues to do so, she would be the first freshman in Valley history to lead her team in points and assists.

"What an amazing accomplishment for her and for our program," said Pingeton. "She came to Illinois State with very high expectations for success and she continues to achieve."

In addition, the former Illinois prep All-Stater at Chicago's Resurrection High School leads all Redbirds this season in three-point field goals, free throws made, free throw percentage and assist/turnover ratio. With 384 points this season, she needs only 16 more to join Redbird immortal Cathy Boswell as the only Illinois State freshmen to score 400 points.

Averaging 14.2 points and 4.4 assists per game, Cirone has overpowered past previous Redbird freshman records for three-point field goals (she has 52--the previous record was Jenny Schmidt's 28) and free throws made (she has 116--the previous mark was Sharon Blade's 84).

Along the way, Cirone set a Redbird Arena record for steals in a game with eight and, at Evansville last week, became only the fourth Redbird player to shoot 10 or more free throws in a game and hit them all (she was 10-for-10 on the way to a career-high 27 points to lead ISU past the Aces).

Her 1.56 assist-to-turnover ratio is No. 1 in Redbird freshman history and No. 4 in the Valley this season. She also ranks among the league's top 10 in assists (3rd), scoring (9th) three-pointers made (4th), three-point field goal percentage (10th), free throw percentage (9th), minutes played per game (6th). She just missed an eighth top 10--Cirone is No. 11 in the league in steals per game.

Stats cannot fully demonstrate her on-court leadership skills, but the fact that she already is a Redbird captain as a freshman means Pingeton has a mountain of trust in Cirone.

"When we recruited Kristi, we had a lot of talks about where we were as a program and where we wanted the program to go," said Pingeton. "She has put the program on her shoulders and she has continued to get better from day one. Her talent, poise and ability make her someone who gives 40 minutes of maximum effort."

2006 Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year: Kristi Cirone, Illinois State, 5-8, guard, Chicago, Ill.