One year ago, Brenda Oldfield led the women's basketball team to the winningest record in Ball State history, only to depart for a more lush environment at the University of Minnesota. In her stead came unherald and untested Tracy Roller. Attempting to follow a performance like Oldfield's is much like the pathetic attempt the Bulls are making in the post-Jordan era. As her first head coaching position, not too many people could imagine how the team would react to a new system from a new coach.
But unlike the Bulls, Roller has succeeded in her task of continuing what has become a winning tradition in an otherwise poor history of Ball State women's basketball. And, in many ways, her success on the court has surpassed that of her predecessor.
What was left after the departure of Oldfield was a team that had struggled with attitudes and cohesiveness in a run-and-gun offense. All the team lost were two seniors who rarely saw playing time, and all the team that added was one of the best scholastic basketball players in the state of Indiana, Kate Endress.
But how could a star-studded team that struggled to play together last year hope to form a bond to keep the program on the rise without the coach who got them to that level of success? In stepped Roller. She took what was a group of players who scored a lot of points and made them into a team that scores a lot of points.
Of course, then there is Tamara Bowie - who is in a class of her own. Last year it was Roller who was Bowie's position coach during her MAC Player of the Year campaign. And this year, Roller has helped Bowie find a new level as the junior forward is rebounding more, scoring about the same and has found a sense of defense in her trigger-happy body.
And that is Roller's highest achievement yet. Look past how the team has a new-found sense of teamwork.
Look past the 11-4 record - which is one of the best starts in school history. Look past the teams offense that scores nearly 80 points per game and is ranked No. 2 in the MAC.
Look at the defense. During Oldfield's tenure, she pieced together one of the best offensive teams in the Midwest, but it failed to make a post-season tournament because it could not play defense.
Roller stepped in and immediately instituted a man-to-man defense, something Oldfield said didn't work because "the players got too tired to play offense."
Roller's team-minded play has her defense playing man, and shutting down an opponent ranked fourth in the MAC in scoring defense. The team has also blocked more than three shots per game - which is on pace for a Cardinals record - and recorded more than 11 steals a game. Both rank second in the MAC.
That's right, defense is winning games for the Cardinals. And it's not because the players got some new-found sense of pride for defense during the off-season. It's because Tracy Roller instilled that new-found pride.
She has given the Cardinals something to shoot for besides the basket, something to fill their heads besides, "How many points did I score?"
Brenda Oldfield may have been good enough for the Big Ten by scoring points and getting the glory. But Tracy Roller has taken the team to a different level: giving them a future no one can predict.
Minnesota, you can have your Brenda Oldfield. We have Tracy Roller.
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