West Terre Haute —
West Vigo grad Lauren Dailey helped the Lady Vikings basketball program to a lot of success at the end of the 1990s, and went on to play for Eastern Illinois from 2001-2004.
She still ranks as EIU’s all-time leading three-point shooter and is 14th on the Panther career scoring list.
Since that time, though, the Viking program hasn’t turned out a lot of collegians. Recruiters didn’t exactly flock to the Green Dome during a three-year period that produced only four victories in the mid-2000s, but Coach Ryan Easton is turning those trends around.
Two members of this year’s Viking squad are headed out to play collegiately next winter, and Easton couldn’t be happier at what Brooklyn Waters and Erin Barton have done for his program past, present and future.
Waters, an energetic 5-foot-1 point guard, is headed to Missouri Baptist, an NAIA school in St. Louis. Barton, a rebounding machine of a forward, is bound for Olney Central College in Illinois.
“It’s big for both of them and our program,” Easton said. “It allows the younger girls, who dream of playing college basketball, know that those dreams can come true. What makes it even better is when our high school girls work with the young ones at summer camp, Community Center clinics, etc. and they get to interact with them.
“Girls in grades K-8 look up to our high schoolers.”
Waters has been a starter for the Vikings since her freshman year, and Easton recognizes her importance.
“She has been a fixture of our program since day one,” he said. “That was not given to her. She has worked extremely hard for many years, in and out of season. She leads by words and action.”
He sees her fitting in well at the collegiate level.
“She will be a great point guard for MBU,” Easton said. “She knows how to get the ball to people who are open, and she would rather do that than score.
“She often sees a play, a cut, a lane, two or three passes before they actually happen. She has very high basketball IQ and a great work ethic, which only translates into success at the next level.”
Easton thinks that, like all college-bound players, there are some things Waters needs to work on for the next level.
“She will need to continue to work on her mid-range jumper,” he said. “She’ll have to knock it down when given to her. She has the capability to getting to the free throw line quite often and her FT percentage will need to continue to increase. She will only continue to grow and improve each and every year.”
Waters considered Olney Central, Stephens College, Columbia College, Washington University (Mo.) and Gardner-Webb.
She chose MBU for many things besides its basketball program.
“They have a great academic record as well as the perfect religious atmosphere,” she said. “Attending MBU will not only help me reach my goals of playing basketball at the next level and succeeding academically, but it will also help me become closer to God. Many people lose faith in life and I think being a part of MBU will help me hold on to that faith and become a better person.
“I loved the coaching staff and I can see my teammates becoming my best friends,” Waters added. “I was very comfortable on the campus and in the gym as soon as I stepped foot on the campus. It felt like “home” to me.”
It’s hard to get noticed on a basketball court at just 5-1, but Waters proactively marketed herself to potential schools and is happy to reap the rewards of that work.
“Playing AAU, making personal game films and DVDs of me in action both helped me get the attention I needed,” she said. “I got noticed by MBU through sending out game film. I had an idea of what area I wanted to attend college, and just sent game film to every college with a decent basketball program.
“After that, I had e-mails pouring in like crazy. It was a lot of work, time and praying, of course, but it all paid off.”
Waters had knee surgery in her sophomore year, and has gradually increased her statistics each season. She averaged 5.3 points per game as a freshman, and has increased that to 11.6 this season along with 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
“My style of game has one speed – fast!” she said. “I love pushing the ball and finding the open person. What I really need to work on though is being more of an outside threat.
“I need to get my outside shot down and really work on pulling that defense out so I can have the opportunity to do what I do best -- is drive the lane.”
Barton also had several suitors for her services, but felt Olney was the perfect fit for her.
“Olney is a small area like the one I live in now, maybe a little larger,” she said. “It has a great basketball program that I believe will keep growing as the years go on. Everyone involved in the basketball program and everyone in the community are great people and fun to be around.
“The group of girls that will be returning are already welcoming my family and me.”
Olney Coach Clint Burris had talked with Easton about prospective players, and Barton’s name came up immediately.
“Not too long after Coach Easton and I had a conversation, Coach Burris approached me after a game in the Terre Haute Savings Bank Tournament,” Barton recalled. “He gave me a lot of information about the school and how things worked with being an athlete in college. From that time on, I was interested in visiting there, meeting the girls on the team, and touring the campus.”
Barton dressed for the varsity team as a freshman but did not get to start her career as early as Waters did.
“There were a lot of post players above me that had obviously earned their position on the team, much more than I,” she said. “Since I knew this, I pushed myself to become better and better every year and pushed even harder in the off-season.
“Because of the hard work and dedication I had for basketball and my team at West Vigo, I improved and was able to start some games as a sophomore and increased my playing level.”
While Waters has dreamed of playing college basketball since her younger days, Barton played four different sports as a freshman and spent some time sorting them out to choose the ones best for her.
“As a freshman I played volleyball, basketball, softball, and I threw in track,” Barton said. “As my years decreased in high school, so did the sports I played.”
This year she only played volleyball and basketball.
“Over the past four years in high school, I have grown to love basketball more and more each year,” Barton said. “I could not imagine this being my last year playing.”
Barton also has things she knows she needs to improve about her game.
“I need to be stronger with the ball and taking advantage of the opportunities I have when I have the ball,” she said. “No one is perfect, but practicing can make you as close as you’ll ever get.”
Easton also recognizes Barton’s great contributions to the Viking program over the past four years and will miss her in the future as well.
“First and foremost Erin is a great young lady,” Easton said. “She works very hard in practice and in the classroom and she is very involved in the school and community.
“The young girls look up to her in many ways,” he said. “Going to play college ball is a great thing and a goal for many of the young girls because of what Erin is doing, but her impact on the younger girls is much more long term beneficial.”
Barton averages 8.5 points and 6.0 rebounds this season.
“Having her and Brooklyn going on to play at the college level is a step in the right direction for our program,” Easton said. “It shows a lot of the young girls, that if this is your dream...it comes down to you. These two, along with the other two seniors have helped move our program forward.”
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 email@example.com.