When the outlook of a season looked bleak a few months ago, Ball State Women’s Basketball continued proceeding just as it would if the season would start on time.
Fast forward to Nov. 25. The Cardinals will walk on the court at Milwaukee for their season opener, with tipoff slated for 6:30 p.m.
“Honestly, from the get-go, it’s been business as usual,” head coach Brady Sallee said.
In its 2019-20 regular season, Ball State finished 21-10 (13-5 MAC) and suffered a 64-63 loss to Eastern Michigan in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals. The team was hoping to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, but COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the tournament.
Unlike last season, Ball State is prepared to fight two battles: one on the court and one off the court.
While every program prepares to face the coronavirus in some fashion this year, Sallee’s team is following the same script it has in years past.
“Our message really hasn’t changed,” Sallee said. “I credit our players, because they’ve really handled the adversity of all this stuff extremely well.”
One player who has embraced her leadership role is senior forward Oshlynn Brown. With many moving parts and several practices where Ball State has been short-handed, Brown has ensured that the Cardinals understood their goals from the beginning.
“I think [Oshlynn] has been really good about laying the groundwork of the expectations in our program,” Sallee said. “Those don’t really change year to year.”
Brown returns for her senior season as the Cardinals' leading scorer, averaging 13.7 points per game in 2019-20. The forward nearly averaged a double-double in 2019-20, chipping in a team-best 9.8 rebounds per game. She received First Team All-Mid-American Conference honors last season and was named to the Preseason All-MAC First Team last week.
“There is doubt that this is Osh’s team,” Sallee said. “She has earned that, and I think our kids look up to her that way.”
Other starters who return include junior forward Blake Smith, sophomore guard Sydney Freeman and junior forward Thelma Dis Agustsdottir. Freeman and Agustsdottir both averaged 10.3 points per game a year ago.
Freeman, who was named to the 2020 All-MAC Freshman Team, looks to build off her first-year success in her second season. Agustsdottir led the team in free throw percentage a year ago (84 percent) and finished second on the team in 3-point percentage (36 percent).
Smith looks to anchor the defensive presence of the Cardinals’ frontcourt alongside Brown.
“We’ve got a lot of kids back,” Sallee said. “We’ve got some pretty dynamic players that have come in the door.”
Other returning players include redshirt sophomore guard Anna Clephane, sophomore forward Annie Rauch, sophomore Estel Puiggros and senior guard Maliah Howard-Bass.
Ball State added a trio of junior transfers to help fill the roster: guard Krystal Rice (Johnson Community College), guard Essence Booker (Nevada) and guard Ella Skeens (Dayton). The team also welcomes in a freshmen class consisting of forward Cameron Grant and guard Ivet Subirats.
The Cardinals are projected to finish No. 3 in the MAC, according to the 2020-21 MAC Women's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll. They also received one first-place vote to win the 2021 MAC Tournament.
Because conference play does not begin until Dec. 20, Sallee said Ball State’s early-season matchups can serve the team well in terms of building on-court chemistry and preparation for the important stretches of the season.
"We’re still a work in progress, learning how to play with each other,” Sallee said. “We’re really trying to gear this thing up for conference play.”
Because of COVID-19, everything is subject to change, but Sallee and the rest of the Cardinals are just happy to get back to playing.
"With everything we’re going through right now, just being able to be up and running right now is pretty exciting,” Sallee said.