TERRE HAUTE —
The expectations are the largest in coach Teri Moren’s brief tenure as Indiana State’s women’s basketball coach.
The Missouri Valley Conference favorites are determined to live up to the championship prospects.
Having the foresight of success in 2013-14 — as ISU built around first-team preseason pick Anna Munn — the Sycamore coaches put together a nonconference schedule that would provide plenty of challenges.
Challenges present opportunities.
ISU could potentially play four teams that finished in the top 100 of the 2012-13 RPI rankings, beginning with a trip to Stetson on Nov. 18. The Sycamores will play a rising Northwestern program in New Orleans several weeks after visiting Louisiana State, which is picked third in the Southeastern Conference. ISU could meet Tulane in the second game at New Orleans.
The Sycamores also play at Marshall, which plays a quality schedule in Conference USA.
And power conference opponents Indiana and Butler of the new version of the Big East will visit Hulman Center on Nov. 15 and Dec. 21 respectively.
The mission of the tough nonconference schedule is to prepare the Sycamores to win a conference championship.
“The preconference is supposed to set you up and get you ready for conference,” Moren said. “We have so much respect for the players and coaches in our conference, we embrace the idea of going out to play a tough schedule because we’ve got to get prepared for Missouri Valley play. It does you no good to be 11-0 [if you don’t play challenging quality teams].”
And there’s games on the schedule, that if the Sycamores can pull off some upsets, could put them in the discussion as an at-large team if the wins were to pile up.
“We’re going to have to win. We’re going out and playing it, you have to pull off some wins,” Moren added.
The Sycamores pulled off 18 wins last season behind the production of guard Anna Munn (14.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and center Racheal Mahan (13 ppg, 7.9 rpg).
The Sycamores fought offensive droughts and inconsistency throughout last season that Moren hopes can be cured with the addition of several newcomers.
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a 5-4 senior transfer from Memphis, takes over at point guard, while junior college transfer Lashonda Littleton moves into a starting post position along with junior Travecia Franklin, a leader on the wing with her defensive tenacity.
“Anna Munn has some pieces around her that can help take that scoring pressure off her. There’s several of them. It’s not just two or three people,” Moren said. “In our estimation, it’s at least 11 strong that we can go that will give us not only minutes but point production and be able to pick up and defend the way we want to from time to time and hopefully be disruptive.”
The Sycamores should truly have a strong bench presence at all five positions.
In the post, 6-2 sophomore Marina Laramie (7.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and 6-2 freshman Rhagen Smith will spell Mahan, while 6-0 junior Jasmine Grier adds versatility and athleticism in the backcourt to complement feisty defenders Kasey Johnson (3.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and Natasha Zurek (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg). Kalliste Haskins is the seventh returnee on the roster, but she’s unlikely to see significant minutes.
Mid-season transfers Stephanie Wittman (Kansas State) and Chelsea Smal (American University) will be eligible in late December.
Scoring could come from many sources.
“That’s where the depth comes in too. When one person’s not hitting, we have a lot more weapons on the bench,” Munn said. “Jasmine Grier, Kasey Johnson, Marina, all those people off the bench, that’s when they can have an impact.”
Munn, one of the program’s all-time greats with 165 3-pointers, hopes to expand her game on and off the floor.
“I need to be more of an attacker and not just a shooter,” Munn said. “And I’ve read a couple good books. Couple things that coach Marcum gave me, a book about leadership, and that helps me put things in perspective. It doesn’t always have to be verbal, you can do things on and off the court leading by example.”
And with Abdul-Qaadir stepping in as a leader at point guard, the Sycamores shouldn’t miss a beat at that spot after losing Taylor Whitley to graduation.
“Munn and I, we’re going to do great as seniors leading the team. I’m looking forward to that,” Abdul-Qaadir said.
ISU women’s schedule
Saturday — South Alabama, 5:05 p.m.
Tuesday — at Eastern Illinois, 8 p.m.
Nov. 15 — Indiana, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 18 — at Stetson, 6 p.m.
Nov. 24 — at Marshall, 2 p.m.
Dec. 3 — at Louisiana State, 12:30 p.m.
Dec. 9 — IUPUI, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 18 — at East Tennessee State, 5:05 p.m.
Dec. 21 — Butler, 1:05 p.m.
Dec. 28 — vs. Northwestern at New Orleans
Dec. 29 — vs. Tulane/Northeastern at New Orleans
Jan. 3 — Northern Iowa, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 5 — Drake, 2:05 p.m.
Jan. 12 — Illinois State, 2:05 p.m.
Jan. 16 — at Evansville, 8 p.m.
Jan. 19 — at Southern Illinois, 3:05 p.m.
Jan. 25 — Missouri State, 2:05 p.m.
Jan. 27 — Wichita State, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 31 — at Bradley, 8 p.m.
Feb. 2 — at Loyola, 3 p.m.
Feb. 7 — at Illinois State, 8:05 p.m.
Feb. 14 — Southern Illinois, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 16 — Evansville, 2:05 p.m.
Feb. 21 — at Missouri State, 8:05 p.m.
Feb. 23 — at Wichita State, 3:05 p.m.
Feb. 28 — Loyola, 7:05 p.m.
March 2 — Bradley, 2:05 p.m.
March 6 — at Drake, 8:05 p.m.
March 8 — at Northern Iowa, 3 p.m.
March 13-16 — Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at St. Charles, Mo.
ISU’s women’s roster
00 Natasha Zurek G 5-9 Jr.
1 Chelsea Small F 6-1 Jr.
3 Marina Laramie F/C 6-2 So.
10 Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir G 5-4 Sr.
14 Stephanie Wittman G 5-9 Jr.
15 Jasmine Grier G 6-0 Jr.
20 Kalliste Haskins G 5-7 So.
21 Kasey Johnson G 5-8 So.
25 Lashonda Littleton F 6-0 Jr.
33 Anna Munn G 5-10 Sr.
34 Racheal Mahan F/C 6-1 Jr.
44 Travecia Franklin G 5-9 Jr.
45 Rhagen Smith F/C 6-2 Fr.