Wednesday, April 4, 2018

ICC Women's Basketball 'closes the book' on their season; looks ahead to 18-19

The ICC Women's Basketball team celebrates after winning the Region Championship back on March 11th. The Cougars finished 2018 with a record of (29-8), while also placing fifth in the NJCAA Division-II National Tournament.
PHOTO / ALEX STAAB
EAST PEORIA, ILL. - 29 wins and just 8 losses. Another successful season has wrapped up for the ICC Women's Basketball team. Not bad for a team that started the season ranked 18th in the preseason Division-II rankings.

That 18th would soon go by the wayside, but in a good way. A (6-2) start to the year propelled the Cougars up twelve spots in the polls to #6. Just one of those wins had the Cougars beating Kirkwood on their home floor, and the Eagles were the top team in the country at the time. Those two losses coming at the hands of North Iowa Area and Arizona Western. Just one more win over Illinois Valley on December 9th would knock ICC up even one more spot, to fifth, the highest they were ranked in all of 2017-18.

After finishing as runners-up in their own holiday tournament, the Cougars hit a low spot. Almost a historically low spot. See, three game losing streaks are almost never seen within the women's basketball program at ICC. Yet a 16-point loss to Moberly Area at home and a 22-point loss to Lewis & Clark in Godfrey, Illinois had the Cougars on a two-game losing streak. Head Coach Karrie Redeker says that stretch was both a low point and a turning point for the Cougars at the same time.

"We had a team 'cleansing' and a coaching staff 'cleansing', where we looked at how we could be more successful on the floor."

Redeker went on to say how they looked at things like being more positive and not leaning on any wins or losses, rather, focusing on things like their level of competition and playing hard.

The Cougars followed that "low point" with a three game winning streak, before losing to Lincoln College, a team that although they were in Region 24 this year, will be moving to the NAIA level next season. It was after that stretch that the Cougars would only lose two games the rest of the season, those being February 14th to Parkland and March 22nd to Monroe at the national tournament.

That stretch going into the start of the season was when the Cougars would get their longest winning streak of the season, winning eight in a row, beginning with a win over Gogebic on February 17th and ending with a nationals-opening 87-81 win over Ancilla on March 20th.

To delve into the postseason in more detail, the Region 24 Tournament didn't favor the Cougars, but only by seed. ICC would draw the fifth seed in their own region, having to play that same Lewis & Clark team in the first round. Despite the looming 22-point loss from earlier in the year, the Cougars returned the favor, dominating the Trailblazers by almost the exact same deficit, winning 67-47. That would set up round two between ICC and their rivals, the Parkland Cobras, who just so happened to be the top seed in the tournament as well. Perfect matchup for the Cougars, and they made it look more like a four seed playing a five seed instead of a one versus five. It wound up as a 13-point win for the Cougars. All that stood in their way were the Lakers from Lake Land. The two teams had met just 11 days prior in East Peoria. Yet despite the familiarity and having played each other just a short while ago, the Cougars would win their seventh straight win by double figures.

The trip to Nationals was an exciting one for all involved, and as if the Cougars hadn't played enough familiar foes already, their first draw in Harrison, Arkansas were the Ancilla Chargers, a guest of the October preseason jamboree hosted by ICC. Ancilla-ICC was the first matchup of the entire jamboree, but given it was an exhibition, there was no official score kept. Nonetheless, the Cougars would win that one too.

However, anyone that is familiar with a 16-team bracket knows that when you are in a eight versus nine game, the winner gets (likely) the top seed. In this case, it was the talented Monroe Tribunes from Rochester, New York. The Tribunes featured a girl that would end up as the tournament's most valuable player, and deservedly so. That player is the 6'3" sophomore, Jaynelle Robinson. Robinson was quite simply too much for the Cougars, and Monroe would hand ICC their first loss in 36 days. Despite the loss, ICC could still have up to two more games, and that's exactly what they got.

A win over Owens on the 23rd set up a fifth place game match-up with the tournament host, North Arkansas. It was a win the Cougars wanted for two reasons. For one, they'd be one of six teams across all three NJCAA divisions to finish the season on a high note. For two, it'd be the 300th career win for Coach Redeker, between both the Parkland Cobras and her five seasons at ICC. This one would be too close to call, but the Cougars would wrap it up in regulation, knocking off the hosts, 72-67, to finish that season with the aforementioned (29-8) record and placing 5th in Division-II, a finish that Redeker says is something to be proud of.

"We're definitely excited about our finish. If you told us a month prior to this that we would've won the region tournament like we did and got to the nationals, we certainly would've taken it."

Redeker went on to say that although "last year is last year", the Monroe game is in a 'thought bubble' of sorts.

"I think they'll (players) tell you they wouldn't mind playing Monroe again, just to have another shot at that, but any time you can finish the season on a roll and at a national tournament, you're gonna be excited."

In fact, mark your calendars, folks. According to Redeker, Monroe leads a group of three teams "in the works" to be added to next year's holiday tournament. Also on that list are Bryant & Stratton and Parkland.

Departing the program are seven players: Bailey Larsen, Jasmine Levy, Krystal Walker, Aubrey Magro, Kellyn Maynard, Kennedy Banks, and Isreal Evans.

Hold on just a moment, before we go, let's introduce the young ladies that will be new to the program next season, and get Coach Redeker's thoughts on them as well, as four have officially signed on for the 2018-19 campaign.

Josi Becker (Sr. - Morton HS) - "She certainly picks things up very quickly. That's one of the things that we liked about her. Most kids like to play with a kid that has a pass-first mentality. We think she's going to blend right in with our back court that we have. She's a ferocious defender. She doesn't back down from anybody. She's played kids that are as fast as what we're going to see. We're excited about her and she's going to bring some excitement to our program because she's from a program like Morton. (on anyone comparable on 17-18 roster to Josi)... Probably not. We didn't have a true point guard in. Bailey could play a little bit of a combo guard, but she wasn't out front as much as what we'll expect Josi to be."

Summer Stoewer (Sr. - Normal Community HS) - "She's gotten to be a much better shooter in her high school career. She's always in attack mode. I think she's also going to fit right in with our back court in that she's ferocious on defense. She's also a really great passer. She sees the floor well. She doesn't worry about her stats. She just wants to win. Those are kids that can definitely help make our program better. She definitely can fill it up from three point range and can get hot really quickly. Those are some things we're looking for her to prove her outside attack a little bit."

Jordyn Hare (Sr. - Macomb HS) - "I think the thing that it (being able to change to 'the system' her senior year) shows is how unselfish she is. She was their leading scorer and played their most minutes and then continued to be their leading scorer in 'the system', and gave up some of her playing time. Our best teams have been when we've had unselfish kids."

Moriah Ward (Sr. - Peoria Central HS) -  "She's a solidly built kid. We expect her to give us a defensive presence, block shots, get some rebounds in there, and score in the paint. She doesn't get outside the paint a ton, but she will take a shot from the outside. We need those kids that are pretty smart defensively. We think that Moriah can help us out there."

What's next for Redeker and the Cougars? Well, they would like to add two recruits for the 18-19 season, which would bring them up to 11 total players (5 returning, 4 signees, plus 2). Redeker also said that she wants her returning players to utilize Ramsey Gym for open gyms. Also on tap for the program is hosting their traditional high school summer league on Wednesdays in June, featuring 20 teams from around the area, which we will have coverage from. Camps are also on the slate, just part of a list that Redeker hopes will "keep the excitement level up about ICC basketball".

We are signing off from the campus of Illinois Central College. We hope the Cougar fans have enjoyed the coverage of ICC Women's Basketball throughout the 2017-2018 season, and all should look forward to even next-level coverage in 2018-19. For now, the book closes on yet another winning season of Cougars Basketball. We'll see you in October.

Other quotes from Coach Redeker on various other parts of the season

On the team's chemistry:
"In the 19 years I've coached basketball, this team had amazing chemistry. That certainly led to success. I think that once they decided as a group to put their individual goals aside and play for the team, good things would happen. We didn't have off-the-court issues or locker room issues. We were able to focus. They generally liked being around each other. We had a lot of activities to look forward to and that certainly helped our play on the floor. It had them looking forward to coming to practice and going to weekend games and different things. That's a testament to our kids and their personalities. It was a group that really meshed well together."

On a notable game, or games, from the 17-18 slate:
"I think our game against Lake Land at home (2/28) gave us great momentum right before the region tournament. We were in sync on that one and that gave us a lot of confidence. Our trip to Arizona back in November was really a fun experience for our kids and our team and just getting to do something new. Then our Christmas Tournament, to play Kirkwood again, and NIACC, those are always an adventure with those teams. Our schedule is daunting. It's very competitive."

On losing the leadership of her sophomore group, particularly Bailey Larsen:
Bailey was a very solid leader. Her and I had a lot of discussions. It's unusual that you would have nine new players on your team. Hopefully, with our five kids returning (in 2018-2019), we can share the load. We can look at who's going to be a vocal leader. I think Kathy (Pinnock-Branford) is more than capable. I think Sia (Williams) is capable of doing that. Abby (Coates) became more vocal as the year went along. Madison (Faulkner) and Emma (Henderson) also could help with that. We want to keep the expectations high, but we have to all have a part in that.

On returning five players from 17-18 to 18-19:
I think the advantage it gives us is we'll have somebody back at every position. We're going through things and we're putting stuff in, and we'll have five kids that know how we want to play and five kids that know a certain play or this defense. Is that going to help us in the long run? I don't think so that much. How quickly can our new players adapt? Our upcoming sophomores can't play on their laurels. They need to get better and work this offseason. This year is this year. When they get back on campus, it's a whole new year. I think that's the thing for them is the challenge.

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