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October 11, 2012

Can Indiana State's women's team get over the hump?

Sycamores looking for first winning season of Moren era

TERRE HAUTE — Entering her third season as head coach at Indiana State, Teri Moren will be trying to leave two middling seasons as far as win-loss record is concerned in the past.

The Sycamores concluded their sixth day of practice for the 2012-13 season on Wednesday, and Moren — 31-32 in her ISU career thus far — is excited about the possibilities that abound with a young, energetic team and a brand new coaching staff.

“It kind of feels like starting over with some of the young kids,” Moren said before referencing several players that return. “The nice thing with Taylor [Whitley], Anna [Munn], [Jessica] Valley and Andrea [Rademacher] and [sophomores] Racheal [Mahan], Travecia [Franklin] and [Natasha] Zurek we have some experience. I wouldn’t call them all veterans.”

Rademacher, a junior who begins practice in the best shape of her career, said she has the same feeling of starting over.

“We all have high expectations this year. It’s a whole new group, new set of coaches, new girls,” Rademacher said. “We’re all still expecting great things. I know a lot of people are doubting us due to our age and how young the team is. But I think we’re all so driven right now and focused on accomplishing big things that we haven’t done in a while.”

Like many coaches, she sees potential.

”We’ve got a long ways to go. But I think we’re at a good starting point,” Moren said.

So the big question is can the Sycamores get over the hump and have a winning season for the first time since a 17-14 mark in 2009-10? (ISU’s last winning Missouri Valley Conference season was 2008-09 when ISU was 14-16 overall).

If the Sycamores can answer a few of the following questions, they could definitely get where they want to be.

<center>Is point guard Taylor Whitley back to full health?</center>

Whitley played just 23.6 minutes per game and missed 11 games during the Sycamores’ 15-16 campaign last year.

The senior point guard has had multiple knee surgeries, but she’s been looking strong in practice so far, giving her and Moren reasons to believe she could be poised for a career year.

“It’s just one of those unfortunate things. You can’t look back,” Moren said. “[Whitley] was very smart over the summer. She watched herself and tried not to do too much. We’ve watched her in preseason,” Moren continued. “She looks great, she feels great. She’s not pain-free everyday, but she’s as close to 100 percent as she’s been in a long time.”

Last season, Whitley was never the dynamic player that she was in 2010-11 when she made the MVC All-Tournament team thanks to an outstanding three-day run. The Chicago-area native was a big-time playmaker in 2010-11, averaging 4.7 assists. That number was down to 2.8 last year.

“I don’t think I was ever close to 100 percent health, but my knee’s feeling great now. It occasionally gets sore, but it’s 100 times better than last season which is really good news,” Whitley said.

With added athleticism around her, Whitley could be the throttle the Sycamores need to be a surprise in the league this year.

“This is the hardest working team I’ve ever been on, we’re super positive and encouraging of eachother,” Whitley said. “If we stay working this hard and positive all year long, good things will come out of it.”

<center>Who replaces Shannon Thomas in the paint?</center>

The 6-foot-4 Thomas graduated as the Sycamores’ all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots, and sophomore Racheal Mahan, who averaged 13 minutes as a freshman, is the most experienced option to pick up minutes.

Mahan, whose production peaked during MVC action when she posted 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 15.8 minutes of action, says she’s ready to be a go-to option in the post.

“Sixty percent of our points are gone from last season so we’re going to have to see who’s going to score that 60 percent,” Mahan said. “I’ve worked very hard in the offseason, and I’m going to have to step up big-time.”

The 6-foot-1 but forceful Mahan said she’s worked on all aspects of her game.

“There’s a lot I can do to improve,” she said. “I have to be better at free throws, rebounding and ball-handling.”

The 6-foot-3 Rademacher, who played 7.7 minutes a game last season, is hoping to earn a bigger role this year. The 21-year-old enters her fourth year in the program is hoping to prove to the coaching staff she can contribute.

“I’ve lost quite a bit of weight after last season which I needed to be able to guard faster players,” Rademacher said. “Because in our league I lot of guards in our league play that 4 spot, play in post. I needed to become faster, be a better defender. I feel I’ve improved on that this summer, by gaining speed and losing weight.”

Moren also has freshmen Marina Laramie, a 6-foot-2 post out of O’Fallon, Mo., and Makenzi Reasor, a 6-2 Hoosier out of Mount Vernon, trying to break into the rotation.

“I just think it’s too early to tell. When you look at the fact that, out of our four post players, two of them our freshmen, you would just assume that Rademacher and Rachel would be ready to step in,” Moren said. “Those are some big shoes to fill, replacing Shannon, not only offensively but everything she did for us on the defensive end as well.”

<center>Will Ann Munn have a breakout season?</center>

Yes, Munn has been a solid player for the Sycamores the past two seasons, averaging 10 points last season, good for fourth on the team.

But the junior has the all-around skills to be a first-team performer in the Missouri Valley.

The problem is Munn had offseason shoulder surgery that kept her off the basketball floor the entire off-season. She was cleared by doctors for her first full practice Friday, but she looked ready to go.

Friday “was first day in six months she’s really been in the thick of things,” Moren said. “She’s in fantastic shape. Expectations are always going to be high on a kid like that, that can shoot the ball like she can. She’s the most experienced player from last year’s team, coming back just based on the fact that Taylor was injured.”

Munn shot 38.1 percent from the 3-point arc last year, second only to Deja Mattox. But Mattox and Brittany Schoen, who led the team in 3-pointers made, are gone, meaning Munn should have plenty more looks at the goal.

Munn, also ISU’s leader in assists and second-best rebounder last year, is ready to pick up her production in another big area.

“I think I just need to be more of a vocal leader,” Munn said. “I think last year I let some of the seniors take that role, and I think this year it’s time to just step up and be that vocal leader and exemplify what’s supposed to be going on on and off the court.”

“It’s been a pretty good start. Coach is really just trying to get our fundamentals down and put in a couple plays. Just have to get some more conditioning in. I think we’re going to hit the ground running the next couple weeks coming up.

<center>What do the freshman add to the team?</center>

When Moren talks about the Sycamores being more athletic this season, sophomores Jessica Valley and Travecia Franklin certainly come to mind.

ISU assistants have been impressed by Franklin so far, and Valley returned to the court ahead of schedule after reconstructive knee surgery in February.

Watch the Sycamores practice and freshman Kasey Johnson of Plainfield comes to the forefront of the discussion.

While she’s only 5-8, Johnson is strong, fast and a good leaper.

“Kasey Johnson has really stood out as a freshman,” Moren said. “Valley’s finally back, and she’s about a month ahead of schedule as far as her release. We’re way more athletic than we’ve been in the past on the perimeter, not as deep as we’d like to be on the inside. But we still feel like we have some pieces that we can play different ways.”

Johnson and Valley provide needed versatility.

“It’s neat to have two kids like that, that are so athletic. That’s a luxury you have. Valley can play the 1 through the 4 [positions]. That’s what she did last year, maybe not so much the 4.  Then you have a kid like Kasey that can play the 4. She can jump. I’m comfortable playing her at a 4 spot. She would be a headache for a 4 in our league trying to guard her. It’s nice to have an option like that.”

The 6-2 freshmen, 5-7 guard Kalliste Haskins and Johnson make up the freshman class for ISU. Right now, Moren sees Johnson as a definite contributor.

“The nice thing about a kid like Kasey is she has an unbelievable basketball IQ. You can put her in those spots and she can retain and know where she’s supposed to be. I’m excited about her in particular,” Moren said.

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