TERRE HAUTE — The mutual respect between Coach Jim Wiedie and his only senior women’s basketball player was what gleamed through more than any of the bright basketball plays made by the Sycamores on Sunday in Hulman Center.
Following ISU’s 86-50 trouncing of Bradley, Wiedie, Rachel Maenpaa and four-year manager Ashley Layman spoke to the crowd of 4,265 fans in Hulman Center. Maenpaa had 11 points and eight rebounds, while junior Laura Rudolphi led four players in double figures with 19 points and eight rebounds.
Maenpaa thanked Wiedie for yelling at her and pushing her to her potential. Wiedie acknowledged that he’s been pretty tough on her.
“I get on Ra and yell at her a lot,” Wiedie said. “The thing is she never loses eye contact. The kid will look you dead in the eye.”
Wiedie and Maenpaa’s relationship didn’t get off to the greatest of starts back when the ISU coach began recruiting her. Wiedie said he shared e-mails with Tom Maenpaa, Rachel’s father, and thought things were going well.
Then he went to make the first phone call to Rachel.
“She said ‘coach I’ve narrowed my list and you’re not on it,’” Wiedie recalled. And that was that. The following summer, Wiedie got a call from Tom Maenpaa asking if they could get back into the mix.
“That’s one of the best calls I’ve ever received,” Wiedie said.
Maenpaa knew she was going to play Division I basketball in the sixth grade, her father said Sunday. He remembered a note Rachel brought home from a University of Wisconsin camp from the coach at Western Illinois that read “Rachel possesses the ability, the talent and determination to play Division I ball.”
Tom Maenpaa coached his daughter from fourth grade up until her freshman year. Then Rachel became a varsity starter at Lakeside Lutheran in Watertown, Wis. She led Lutheran to a state title her sophomore year, scoring 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in the state championship game.
Maenpaa’s confidence was sky high as she was offered scholarships to a number of schools. She wanted to play for the Wisconsin Badgers, but she wasn’t a priority for their coaching staff.
In a story naming her the Wisconsin State Journal Player of the Year, Maenpaa said “I’ve been calling myself ‘The Quiet Storm’ lately,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot of exposure in the state of Wisconsin so far but at the national level I haven’t really blown up yet.”
Maenpaa hasn’t really blown up on the national women’s basketball scene this year — as Wiedie said she’s had an all-conference type of season — but if she’s able to play six more games she just might have that chance.
Six more games played will make Maenpaa the program’s all-time leader in games played, passing Melanie Boeglin. The sixth game would mean ISU is in postseason action, possibly even that elusive NCAA Tournament.
Maenpaa had a 23-point performance at No. 12 Vanderbilt earlier this season, and she ranks third in the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding in conference games only.
But she’s had her share of struggles during this senior campaign.
At one point, Maenpaa said she was having string of bad practices that was starting to bother her and definitely bothering the coaching staff.
First-year assistant coach Nicole Motto offered some advice that touched home with Maenpaa.
“She told me my goal should be to love basketball more than I did as a kid by the end of my senior year,” Maenpaa said.
Motto, who just finished a successful playing career at Miami of Ohio, said she had a feeling the pressure of being the only senior was starting to wear Maenpaa down.
“As a senior you have the weight of the world on your shoulders,” said Motto, also referencing the fact that this year’s team was following up the most successful senior class in the program’s history.
“As a college athlete, you always go through your ups and downs,” Motto said. “You have to go back to those times as a kid, playing in the back yard or whatever.”
Maenpaa has bounced back after disappearing when ISU squeaked out a five-point win against first-place Southern Illinois with Maenpaa scoring just three points. Two nights later, the senior had four points and ISU lost to Evansville, drawing some criticism from Wiedie.
Since then, Maenpaa has scored 24, 18, 22 12, and 11 points.
Maenpaa’s biggest Achilles heel to her career has been getting into foul trouble. “She might hold the school record in fouls,” Wiedie bantered.
Maenpaa has seemed to cure that problem this season. Well, at least since the New Year. She hasn’t fouled out at all in 2007 after doing so three times during the first half of the season.
This Indiana State team is playing as well as anyone in the league and could head into the MVC Tournament in two weeks as the favorite.
Wiedie’s young team has got to that point by maturing as the season has progressed.
All the people Maenpaa has had support from — to Wiedie, associate head coach Megan Lanham, Motto, Ernie Thompson and her teammates — have made her the woman she is today, Maenpaa said. She added that she’ll be prepared for whatever life throws her way because of all those people.
Right now, that’s the leader of a pretty darn good basketball team.
“Confident and relaxed, right now that’s Rachel Maenpaa,” Lanham said. “She’s been using her strengths and playing more settled down.”
ISU has become a team that takes a lot of pride in its defense and its vast amount of options on offense.
Maenpaa credited all the different personalities on this year’s team for making it such a fun team. Maenpaa’s personality is larger-than-life.
“She’s the type of person that can make such a difference,” point guard Angela Phillips said. “She just loves everyone and makes everyone feel so important.”
Her counterpart in the post Rudolphi added: “Over the course of the year, she’s just been letting her game come to her. She’s really taken over a leadership role. We’ve had a great friendship ever since I came here. Her being a year older, I look up to her a lot. She’s really taught me a lot about the value of hard work.”
Maenpaa’s dad saw some of the same determination in Maenpaa as a fourth grader outside the house shooting and then making herself run line drills if she missed.
“Rachel’s a very determined, confident young lady,” her dad said. “As she said today in her speech, all the people who have touched her have helped build that confidence to another level.”
A confident Maenpaa means a confident, tough-to-beat ISU women’s team.
• Layman to stay at ISU — ISU manager Ashley Layman spent four years as the manager for the Sycamores.The Terre Haute South graduate will finish her bachelor’s degree in May, and she plans to begin work in the summer on her Masters in Business Administration.
Layman was the manager for three years for coach Alan Maroska at Terre Haute South after playing junior varsity and freshman ball for one year.
• Stiles Award delivered — The first Jackie Stiles Most Valuable Player Award that was earned by Melanie Boeglin was turned over to her parents Dave and Joyce Boeglin at halftime of Sunday’s game. Melanie Boeglin is finishing up her first season of professional basketball in Sweden.
Craig Pearson can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4356.