CARBONDALE — Nicole Martin saved her best for last, scoring a career-high 19 points in SIU's 81-53 loss at Milwaukee in the Women's Basketball Invitational.
With a talented recruiting class and seven of their top 10 players back for 2017-18, the Salukis hope her next step could lead to even bigger and better things. After going eight years without any postseason at all, SIU played in its second straight event this year.
"This group got a lot of playing time. We've got to turn the corner, and find out what we're all about," SIU coach Cindy Stein said. "We'll still be really young, but I think we gave this group a lot of experience, and, hopefully, we can build on that."
Martin, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward, made 9 of 10 from the field and her only free-throw attempt at Milwaukee. She started 15 of 30 games, including 10 of 18 in Missouri Valley Conference play, and shot 50.6 percent from the field for the season.
"I loved her energy," Stein said. "She was really good, effort-wise, getting out and getting some steals and converting them into layups. She wanted the ball down low."
With top rebounder Kim Nebo now gone, Martin could step into an even bigger role in the frontcourt next season. SIU also returns freshman forward/center Lauren Hartman, 6-1 sophomore forward/center Ashley Hummel and gets junior Celina VanHyfte back after she missed the season with an injury.
Leading scorer Kylie Giebelhausen, a 6-1 junior guard/forward who led SIU (16-14, 10-8 MVC) with 81 3s on 207 attempts (39.1 percent), will be a fourth-year starter next season. Guards Kristen Nelson, Tiajaney Hawkins, Olivia Bowling, Brittney Patrick and Caitlyn Claussen also return.
SIU signed four players last November, including two first team all-state selections and another who was ranked the 45th best wing in the nation by ESPN at one time.
Guard Makenzie Silvey of Edwardsville was a Class 4A first team all-state pick by The Associated Press after averaging 15.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game during the regular season for the state runners-up. SIU also signed one of her teammates, 6-1 forward Criste'On Waters, who averaged 7.8 points and 5.4 rebounds a game.
Abby Brockmeyer, a 6-1 forward from Raymond, was a first team all-state pick in 3A. Brockmeyer, who ranks first in her class with a perfect 5.0 GPA, averaged 25.1 points and 16.5 rebounds per game for the Litchfield Purple Panthers, who co-op with Lincolnwood. Her 1,510 career rebounds rank ninth in Illinois history, according to the Springfield State Journal-Register.
Rachel Pudlowski, a 5-11 powerhouse for Fort Zumwalt North (Missouri) High School, was a three-star recruit by ESPN.com and ranked the 45th-best wing in the country at one time. Pudlowski averaged 13.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists for an 18-9 squad this season. A four-sport athlete, she competed for the Panthers' basketball, soccer, softball and track teams while carrying a 4.0 GPA.
Stein said the schedule still has some dates to fill, but that the Salukis will be tested away from SIU Arena early. SIU is scheduled to play at Memphis, at Marshall, at UAB and at Morehead State next season. The Salukis will also play in a tournament in Puerto Rico right before Christmas.