TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute South will have five former Braves playing women’s college basketball this year, and two current Braves have already made verbal commitments to keep that streak alive for the next several years.
And, not necessarily by design, they will both become Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne Mastadons.
Braves senior guard Haley Seibert announced earlier this summer she has accepted a scholarship offer from the NCAA Division I squad that went 13-17 last year and placed sixth in the Summit League at 10-8.
Later in the summer, South junior frontcourter Hannah Lee also made a commitment to join IPFW following her two remaining high school seasons.
“After visiting the campus and meeting the coaching staff, I knew it was the perfect fit for me,” Seibert said. “I loved the coaches and the direction they are taking the program. IPFW offered a Division 1 program with a small town feel and a strong academic program.
“Fort Wayne is far enough to let me grow, but close enough that I can still come home.”
All valid, legitimate reasons. But, she is still a teenage girl.
“It is also right by the largest mall in Indiana,” she added.
Lee shares many of the same impressions as her teammate, also noting a desire to play near home, in a Division I program and wanting a “small town” feel.
“IPFW fulfills all of these requirements and then some,” she said. “I plan on pursuing veterinary medicine after obtaining my bachelor degree, and IPFW is associated with Purdue and would provide an exceptional education foundation.
“My family and I were very impressed with the character and expertise of the coaching staff. They really make you feel as if you are a part of a family rather than only a member of a sporting team.”
Lee made her choice independently, and the ability to rejoin Seibert as a teammate was just a bonus.
“I have tremendous respect for Haley as a player as well as a person,” she said. “On the court, we have learned to work extremely well with each other.
“Of course I’m thrilled to be attending the same college, but if Haley had chosen another college I would have still selected IPFW.”
Seibert averaged 16 points per game last season as South’s point guard, and has been told by IPFW coaches she could appear there or as a wing player. She chose IPFW after looking at a variety of colleges at all divisions, including Division I Stetson, Division II Southern Indiana and Division III DePauw.
The Braves playing college basketball this year will be Brooke Daugherty, a senior at Indiana-South Bend; Megan Craft, a junior at Ball State; Dragana Grbic, a redshirt freshman at Butler; Tessa Johnson, a sophomore at Marshall; and Randa Rector, a sophomore at Vincennes.
Seibert feels her experiences as their teammate have helped her to raise her game to its current level.
“As a freshman and sophomore, I had the opportunity to play with a talented group of girls, and I looked up to all of them,” she said. “They helped me become a better player. As a junior, I was the only returning starter so my role changed completely and I had to become the leader.”
Seibert has played a lot of AAU games in the summers around the South workouts, and has spent a lot of time in the gym, weight room and on the track.
“I need to continue to grow in every aspect of my game, but I especially need to focus on strength and playing more physical,” said Seibert, who plans to go into physical therapy or sports medicine.
South coach Dave Cassell thinks the matching of Seibert and IPFW is “a perfect fit.”
“Not too many players average 16 points a game on 12 shots a game,” he said. “That’s hard to do. That shows she takes good shots, and when she takes them she hits them.
“She had a lot of 8-for-9 and 7-for-8 games for us last year, as well as leading us in assists and steals.”
Cassell noted that Chris Paul and the Mastadon staff are “crazy” about her and watched her play all summer long.
“One game her team was down by 20, and she led them all the way back to win a big game,” he said. “They knew then they had a gem. They love her hustle and determination.”
The well-rounded Seibert ranks seventh in her class academically and was elected Homecoming Queen this fall.
Cassell credits assistant coach Cara Stuckey with continuing to help develop Seibert’s game this summer.
“They worked a lot in the summer on her left hand and stop and pop jumpers,” he noted. “All the kinds of things that you saw Cara [a former South standout] do in high school.”
Lee, an aggressive 6-2 battler, expects to play the No. 4 (power forward) position collegiately, but is working to improve her outside game as well.
“I would like to expand my shooting range as well as my ball handling skills,” she said. “I also want to continue to work on my post game. In addition I have to continue to grow in physical strength.”
Lee also considered numerous colleges in all divisions from several different states.
She feels she has been well prepared for her basketball career by the mentors from her early playing days, and also credits former National Football League player Ernie Thompson with helping her to increase her strength.
“Since fifth grade I have played on multiple travel teams and have had great opportunities to experience basketball at every level and to receive excellent instruction,” she said. “The summer before my freshman year is when I began participating in open gyms as well as weight lifting with Ernie.”
Lee also considers the time spent with the former Braves during her freshman year as another huge asset, particularly Grbic.
“My high school career has been a great experience,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to have amazing team member mentors as a freshman and learned a lot about varsity basketball.
“Dragana was a great player to play under, and I improved a lot just by watching and learning from her,” added Lee, a niece of former South player Chris Lee. “Last season was a developmental year for the whole team and we surprised even ourselves with our ability to come together as a team.”
Cassell likes Lee’s versatility and desire to improve.
“She is very mobile, is not really a post-up type center,” he said. “She has two more years to develop, and she will keep getting better and better.”
Cassell thought Lee had a good summer last year, also, and is getting more consistent around the basket.
“She’s a good free throw shooter, which is important for someone who players underneath, and has really improved her passing,” he said. “We can play her up high and let her distribute the ball. She scores when she has to [9.9 points per game last year].”
Seibert is the team’s only senior this year, and Cassell is looking forward to what this group can do.
“We have a lot of girls with excellent grades and excellent attitudes,” he said. “Those things kind of go together. We are very lucky to have this group to be around, and we are ready to get going.”
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches at Northview High School in Brazil. He can be reached at