By Craig Pearson
Whether the win comes against a top-25 team or a conference pushover, ending a four-game losing streak is always a relief.
The Indiana State women’s basketball team’s victory Sunday was somewhere in between but closer to the latter as Wichita State is just above the Sycamores in the standings.
But, as assistant coach Clint Weddle said after the game, the victory was “a stepping stone.”
The way the Sycamores dominated the action, however, showed that Weddle may be right about another thing: The Sycamores may not be a team anyone wants to play as the March 11 start date for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament approaches.
With six games left, the Sycamores (12-11, 3-9 MVC) won’t be able to reach the upper half of the conference, but sixth-place Drake, currently 6-7 in league, is a team that could be caught.
To do so, winning both road games at ninth-place Southern Illinois and 10th-place Evansville this week is a must.
With the team chemistry the Sycamores presented Sunday, the outlook looks — to use a word common around this team over the weekend — positive.
Neither Kelsie Cooley nor Kelsey Luna would offer any goal associated with the uphill climb ISU faces to stay out of the play-in round of the conference tournament. (The bottom four teams in the league are faced with the daunting task of needing to win four games in four days to take the title.)
“We can’t control the standings,” Cooley said. “What can we control? We control how hard we work and our intensity and our support for our teammates. You handle those things and things will start falling in line for you.”
This team has clearly rallied around each other since learning of coach Jim Wiedie’s suspension for the remainder of the season and that his contract will not be renewed.
The players are showing a renewed focus.
“Not only one game at a time, but one day at a time. I know you don’t like cliches but that’s the truth,” Luna said when asked about goals pertaining to the standings.
As for the goals Luna mentioned Friday — having fun, passion for the game, and believe and inspire — the players seem to have those under control.
When asked if passion was lacking in recent weeks, Cooley said it’s been there.
“I think we’ve played hard every single game but just sometimes things weren’t going our way and then we kind of got down on ourselves,” she said. “I think the passion for the game has always been there.”
Luna added a thoughtful response: “Passion can build confidence but it can also hurt confidence because you want it so bad when you see a mistake or you see adverse times on the court, then you kind of let that passion become so overwhelming that it becomes detrimental.
“For the past few games together, we’ve kind of gathered together on making it a positive every moment of the game.”
• Luna’s on-the-floor leadership seems to be improving as well, as the Sycamores were constantly brought together during the game by the senior.
When asked if she thought she’s being more vocal, Cooley interjected.
“Yes. You’re doing a good job,” Cooley said, turning to Luna during post-game interviews. “You’re being a great leader. I like the huddles.”
Luna conceded that she has stepped up to help her team stay poised during adversity.
“I’m maybe taking it upon myself as a senior,” Luna said. “I came into this program being more of a leader by example. For years, the coaches told me to be more vocal and I didn’t quite understand how to do that until adversity set in last year [with a season-ending injury] and then I couldn’t do anything but use my voice.
“Definitely from that point forward it’s been a goal and something I’ve been working on to help my teammates that way.”
• After knocking down two 3-pointers Sunday, Luna has 251 in her career and is within five of becoming the program’s all-time leader.
• Luna revealed that she has begun writing a different Bible verse on her hand for each game.
“In lieu of Valentine’s Day, today I have 1 John 4:8, which says that God is love,” Luna said. “Each day I go out and I glean some strength from a Bible verse.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (812) 231-4357.