News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 17, 2013

CRAIG PEARSON: ISU women take a step forward in Moren’s third season

Craig Pearson
The Tribune-Star

ST. CHARLES, MO. — The definition of progress is “development or growth” or “steady improvement.”

That’s exactly what Teri Moren and her staff accomplished in her third season as Indiana State’s women’s basketball coach.

It’s gratifying to listen to Moren talk about some of the individual growth, but she also deserved to speak about the progress she has led the program to in her three years.

“We have. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Moren said. “We lose three 1,000 point scorers … and we’re playing with one senior, one junior and then sophomores and freshmen. I would say 18 wins, 10-8 [Missouri Valley record], the 5th seed in the Valley, a very difficult league, is making some strides.”

The Sycamores improved during the season as well, overcoming the loss of injured starter Jessica Valley thanks to contributions from several young players. ISU picked up at least one victory on each of its MVC road trips this season, a positive step as Moren’s teams struggled to get road wins in her first two years.

After every loss this season, the Sycamores have been eager to redeem themselves. Friday’s 71-60 defeat to a quality Northern Iowa team led by one of the Valley’s all-time greats (Jacqui Kalin) was no different.

Taylor Whitley talked about the desire to play a few more games with this team. For good reason. It’s a hard-working team that is committed to winning.

It may be the best defensive team the program has ever had, and its togetherness and toughness at that end is memorable.

The Sycamores have to find that same cohesiveness offensively.

Freshman Kasey Johnson provided big energy Friday during ISU’s run — and many other times during the season — but she has to have confidence in her shot. Natasha Zurek and Travecia Franklin are a big reason for the team’s success on defense, but they, too, must improve their shooting.

Racheal Mahan emerged as a feared post player in the Missouri Valley Conference — the 10th-best league in the nation — after playing limited minutes as a freshman. Only a few players in the league can match her strength on the low block. 

Mahan overcame a tough first half against Northern Iowa in which she had a couple turnovers. The sophomore showed humility after the game.

“Coach told me I’d get double-teamed so just slow down and don’t let them rush you,” Mahan said. “Unfortunately, a couple of turnovers [occurred] from that. I just think that there’s a lot of improvement that needs to be done and that’s something I’ll be working on.”

Anna Munn is more than just a shooter and should be one of the league’s most well rounded guards next season. She should also have help offensively from transfers like 6-1 forward Chelsea Small and former Kansas State guard Stephanie Wittman. Jasmine Grier and Ricquia Jones are also junior college additions that are — along with Sullivan center Rhagen Smith — likely to create an even more competitive atmosphere.

“We have a lot of experience with our freshmen getting a lot of solid playing time with Kasey [Johnson] and Marina [Laramie]. It all comes down to what we put into the offseason as far as how much we get out of it,” Munn said.

In a way, the offseason begins now. 

ISU has earned a chance to be in the 64-team WNIT, which has a committee that partially utilizes various computer rankings to choose its field. Among the 345 teams, ISU ranks from 114th (Massey) to 122nd (Sagarin) to 141st (RealTimeRPI).

With Creighton’s loss on Friday in the MVC semifinals, I think ISU will be joining the Bluejays as one of four teams from the MVC in the WNIT.

If not, the Sycamores will be in the 16-team Women’s Basketball Invitational.

Either way, preparing for a postseason tournament means more time together in practice. And more “steady improvement” and “development or growth” for the program as a whole.

Follow Craig Pearson on Twitter @TribStarCraig or email at craig.pearson@tribstar.com.