CARBONDALE — Two true freshmen started both of the SIU women's basketball team's exhibition games because no one else played well enough to unseat them.
Guard Makenzie Silvey and forward Abby Brockmeyer were both first team all-state players in Class 3A last season, and 5-11 freshman forward Rachel Pudlowski, who came off the bench in both wins, was a three-star recruit by ESPN.com. With two returning starters and eight returning letterwomen from last season's 16-15 squad, the Salukis' youth could be a big asset in coach Cindy Stein's fifth season.
"I do think we will probably play more kids this year than in the past," Stein said. "I think we will have really good rotations. I think that we will have the ability to probably play the defense that we've always been wanting to play since we got here. Probably a little more up and down the floor, full-court, some trapping, some different gimmick defenses. I think we will be much better at that, but, again, we're fairly young."
Opponents shot just over 40 percent last season against the Salukis, who played in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) for the second straight year. It was the first time since SIU made the NCAA Tournament in 1986 and 1987 that the squad played in the postseason in back-to-back years. The Salukis struggled at the defensive end, however, in their two biggest games of the season.
Wichita State, the fifth seed at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, shot 50 percent from the field in the second half to knock out the fourth-seeded Salukis 73-60 in the quarterfinals. Milwaukee made more than half its 3-point attempts (10 of 19) and 55.9 percent from the field, overall, in an 81-53 mauling in the first round of the WBI that ended SIU's season.
Kylie Giebelhausen, SIU's leading scorer last season at 13.8 points per game and a preseason all-conference pick, is the Salukis' only senior. Giebelhausen started all 31 games, led the team with 28 blocks and 82 3s, and was second in steals (34), assists (81) and rebounds (5.4 per game). And even she wasn't sure who would take the floor when SIU officially opens the season against Tennessee-Martin Friday night.
"I couldn't even tell ya who our starting five is gonna be, because there's so much competition as to who's gonna start, but, after starting, you have so many great players that can come off the bench and replace them, and be the same thing," Giebelhausen said. "Be the same scoring threat. Be the same defensive threat that starters might possess."
Giebelhausen might not have to be the team's best defensive stopper this season, Stein said.
"Last year, Kylie Giebelhausen had to defend the best player on the other team, whether they were a post, or a guard, or a point guard, and I hope that's not the case this year," she said. "I would hope that we have a mixture of kids that can come in and be defensive stoppers."
Sophomore forward Nicole Martin, a member of the MVC's All-Freshman Team last season, is SIU's other returning starter. Martin averaged 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game with 16 starts in 31 games. The 6-foot-1 forward/center from Jefferson City, Missouri, had a monster finish, sinking 9 of 10 from the field on the way to 19 points at Milwaukee.
A one-trick pony in the post, she worked in the offseason on adding to her turnaround jumper and developed more versatility. Martin scored a combined 22 points with six rebounds in the two exhibition wins. She made 10 of 21 from the field.
"Last year, I felt like her turnaround jumper was A-plus, but that's all she had," Stein said. "So I think she's got a lot more juice in her as well, and I think those are all positive, so, I think we're looking at a really good season and our goal every year is to win it. I don't care who gets picked first, our goal is to win this conference, go to postseason, and keep moving forward."
Stein is planning on redshirting two of her 14 players, freshman guard/forward Criste'on Waters of Edwardsville and junior guard Olivia Bowling. Bowling played in 30 games last season off the bench, but missed most of the summer with a broken foot and some practice time early this fall with an illness.