By CHRIS STONER
NEW ALBANY —
Some basketball programs are satisfied with just having a winning record each season.
The IU Southeast women's basketball team finished with a respectable 17-13 last year but doesn't plan on repeating this year. They plan on getting back to what they are only satisfied with: a Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
Before last season, the Grenadiers had won four consecutive KIAC tournament titles –- each earning them a berth in the NAIA Div. II National Tournament.
This year’s team is still finding its way but it plans on its journey to end with a championship.
“I’m still trying to get a feel for this team,” IU Southeast head coach Robin Farris said. “Quite honestly, five or six games ago, I wasn’t quite sure which direction this team was going to take and how good they were going to be. Heather [Wheat] had a knee issue going on and I was worried. But she’s recovered from that and now here recently I’ve seen some positive things happening. Players are starting to gel better and they’re getting an understanding of what we’re trying to do here.”
Without a senior on the roster, Wheat is looked to for leadership and more. The Louisville native leads the Grenadiers in scoring, assists and blocked shots and is second on the team in rebounding.
“Heather’s not perfect and she’s feisty, but it’s a good feisty,” Farris said. “She does about everything we ask of her. She’s in the gym all the time. Leadership is setting the example. The other kids see how much she wants to win and the time she puts in and I think that sometimes is more important than the vocal things. She’s highly competitive.”
Wheat said she enjoys the role of team leader and also knows what her coaches expect out of her. She also knows Farris’s end goal for this year’s edition of the Grenadiers.
“I try to [lead] both ways –- verbally and with my actions,” Wheat said. “I always try to play my hardest because I feel like if the team sees their leader giving it her all. ... That carries over into everyone. Coach has made it a point that our team goal is to win the conference tournament this year and to win as many conference games as we can. But he still breaks down everything game by game.”
Silver Creek graduate Alex Tinsley is one of many new faces for Farris. The freshman said her head coach made it clear to her what was needed to get IU Southeast back to claiming the KIAC championship.
“The main thing he told me about this season was he needed more rebounding,” said Tinsley, who has started all but three games this season. “That’s one of the reasons I was recruited because of the way I rebounded in high school. I think every game we’ve won so far was because we out-rebounded them. That’s the major thing I’ve been preached to about -– that rebounding will help us get back to where we were.”
The Grenadiers season results thus far indicate a team still trying to find its identity. IU Southeast opened the season with four straight wins, only to lose their next three in a row. They haven’t won back-to-back games since mid-November but have won two of their last three and currently sit in second place in the KIAC with a 4-1 conference record.
“Coach talks about us getting things back on track,” said Whiteland product and one of five IUS freshmen Michaela Harris said. “We’ve been focused on playing together and really learning the offense and now that conference play is here, we need to get going.”
Another new face for Farris is freshman Tori Kingsley. The former Floyd Central Highlander has quickly learned that mediocre and IU Southeast basketball don’t go together.
“He really pushes us to work our hardest because he has that competitive side that he really wants to win,” Kingsley said of her head coach. “Because he’s had such a good winning career here, he doesn’t want this year’s team to just be average. He really pushes us to perform our best.”
Seymour graduate Sidney Carr is another one of the newbies at IU Southeast. Carr -- like many of her teammates -- comes from a successful high school program and has drawn upon those winning experiences to help her adjust to basketball at the collegiate level.
“I really take winning to heart," she said. "After experiencing winning so much in high school, it just makes you want to win every game even more. It makes you really play your hardest every night. That’s what coach talks about a lot –- that we need to bring lot of energy to the floor and to play our hardest.”
As you would expect at a small school, you can often find the men's and women's basketball teams in the bleachers rooting on their hardwood counterparts. The men's team is currently ranked third in the country and lead the nation in scoring. Those are facts that don’t go unnoticed by the women's team.
“There’s usually six or seven of us that come to watch the men's team play,” Wheat said. “We love watching them play and we’re always saying that we want to get to that level of success. Everyone knows they are the best team when they step on the floor and we want to be looked at the same way.”
The Grenadiers are in action tonight web they host Asbury.