NORMAL – Kristen Gillespie was introduced Tuesday as the eighth Illinois State women's basketball coach at a press conference in the Hancock Stadium Club.
"Our goal was to find the best person to lead our women's basketball program back to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference and compete for postseason opportunities," athletic director Larry Lyons said. "In addition, we were looking for the best person to continue our strong record of academic success and personal development of the young women in our program. Kristen Gillespie brings all of that and many, many more intangibles. She will roll up her sleeves and go to work. We are very excited that Kristen has chosen to become a part of our Redbird family."
Gillespie comes to Illinois State after leading Div. II Lewis University to a 51-12 record over the past two seasons, including a pair of trips to the NCAA Div. II women's basketball tournament and one appearance in the Great Lakes Valley Conference championship game. In her first season in Romeoville, the Flyers won the GLVC East Division with a record of 18-0, which led Gillespie to be selected as the 2016 GLVC coach of the year, the WBCA Midwest Region coach of the year and the IBCA Div. II coach of the year.
"I am beyond excited and extremely humbled to be named the next head coach at Illinois State," Gillespie said. "I have a full understanding of the rich tradition that surrounds Redbird basketball and the Missouri Valley Conference. From day one, it will be our focus to surround every action with championship-level effort. We will succeed on the court, in the community and in the classroom. My staff and I will welcome the challenge of building Illinois State into an MVC power once again. Our program will play a fundamentally-sound style, predicated on unselfishness and unmatched work ethic. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity that President (Larry) Dietz, Larry Lyons and Leanna Bordner have given me. I am eager to get to work and reestablish the winning culture here at Illinois State."
Prior to her time at Lewis, Gillespie coached four seasons at Benedictine University in Lisle. In her final year in 2015, she guided the Eagles to an 18-10 record. Before Benedictine, Gillespie spent two seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Illinois-Chicago from 2009-11 and was a grad assistant at her alma mater, North Carolina State, under the legendary Kay Yow.
Gillespie was a four-year letterwinner and three-year captain for the Wolfpack from 1996-99. As a junior, she was N.C. State's starting point guard on the 1998 NCAA Final Four squad, and she was also selected as an honorable mention academic All-American the following year as a senior. Upon her graduation, Gillespie had brief stops as an assistant coach at both Central Florida (1999-2000) and UC-Santa Barbara (2000-02), before returning to Raleigh, North Carolina, to pursue her master's degree as a graduate assistant under Yow. During her tenure, the Wolfpack not only advanced to the NCAA Tournament, but Gillespie played a key role in recruiting a top-20 recruiting class in 2004.
Once she received her master's degree, Gillespie spent two years as a high school head coach at Maclay School (2005-07) in Tallahassee, Florida, before returning to Raleigh for a third time to join Yow's staff as an assistant coach and co-recruiting coordinator. In 2008, the Wolfpack went 21-13 and advanced to the WNIT Final Four. In that short span, Gillespie coached five players who played professionally, including a WNBA first-round draft pick, and she recruited the 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) rookie of the year.
Illinois State finished 8-23 overall and 4-14 in the Missouri Valley Conference (ninth place). Gillespie replaced Barb Smith, who was let go after four seasons and a 28-93 record with the Redbirds. Illinois State could return 10 of its 12 players from last season this winter.