Only the Beginning For Redbird Basketball
Oct. 17, 2005
Normal, Ill. - According to Robin Pingeton, last year's State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship and NCAA bid were not just a great finish. They were the start of what she anticipates to be even bigger things to come.
Last year, the `Birds finished the regular season 10-17 and the No. 8 seed in the Valley Tournament after losing 68-48 at Indiana State on the final day of the regular season. One week later, the Redbirds had beaten three 20-win teams (including eventual Women's NIT champion Missouri State) in just 45 hours and were celebrating a conference tournament championship after Jaci McCormack's spinning jumper in the final second beat Indiana State 72-70.
A successful public opening of pre-season practice included a 10-minute public scrimmage which was about as even as it could be until the end, when the Red team pulled out a 12-8 victory in front of a crowd of nearly 1,500 fans.
Looking ahead to 2005-06, Pingeton reflected on her first two seasons as Redbird head coach. She took over a program that hadn't seen a winning season in seven years and has the ball rolling.
"What a journey it has been, but we're just getting started," said Pingeton. "In two years, it would be safe to say we've had a makeover. We are committed, though, and ready to build one of the nation's best programs."
Pingeton's report card for the first two years looks impressive enough. More than 200 changes to the Redbird record book are indicative of the high-scoring offensive style she has installed. Home attendance has nearly doubled in two years and the future looks bright in front of two highly-regarded recruiting classes with a definite Illinois flavor.
"When we got here, we had just one player on the roster from Illinois," said Pingeton. "There is a wealth of talent in this state and we have been committed to a recruiting focus which starts in Illinois."
The `Birds, who play their first exhibition game Nov. 5 against Odyssey in Redbird Arena, return three starters including sharp-shooting guard Megan McCracken, top rebounder Holly Hallstrom and versatile sophomore Amber Shelton, who likely will move from a post spot to a perimeter position.
Shelton's move will likely be facilitated by the interior size Pingeton possess. Sophomore Lashawn Johnson, a powerful 6-foot-2 was a key to that 2005 Valley Tournament title. She and Hallstrom are joined by 6-foot-3 junior transfer Lori Trumblee, 6-foot-5 freshman Nicolle Lewis and 6-foot freshman Brea Banks.
McCracken had to play the point much of the time last year, but more-experienced sophomore Tiffany Hudson and highly-regarded freshman Kristi Cirone figure to battle for the quarterback job in Pingeton's high-scoring offense.
Sophomore Ashley Sandstead and junior Catherine Graham both played key roles off the bench at wing spots last year, while 5-foot-10 freshman Brooke Singleton can contribute athletic ability to at least two positions.
"Our roster is down to 12 players by design," said Pingeton. "It will allow everyone to feel more involved. I really like our depth at every position. We like to play a very `up-tempo' style and I believe with the type of players we've been able to recruit, we will be able to implement that style of play."
Included in that `makeover' is a team that now has nine of 12 players from Illinois, and all of them are just four hours from home at Redbird Arena.
"We want to build a program that our university and community can be proud of and take ownership of," said Pingeton. "Making it to the NCAA Tournament last year was indescribable, but that was last year. We want to take that experience and build on it. We still have a long way to go in reaching our goals for this program, but we are certainly making strides."