High pitched screams from thousands of children from 16 different elementary schools in Delaware County and the surrounding area dominated Worthen Arena as graphics prompting the crowd to ‘make some noise’ appeared on the jumbotron. Ball State University President Geoffery S. Mearns and Men’s Basketball head coach Michael Lewis watched courtside and smiled as the crowd maintained their energy and noise level throughout Ball State Women’s Basketball’s 105-51 victory over Indiana University East on “Field Trip Day”.
This is a yearly tradition for the Cardinals’ home opener, and a reported 4,067 people attended this year, the most for a women’s basketball game since the 2019-20 season. Redshirt senior Anna Clephane, who led Ball State in scoring with 22 points, said children in attendance were asking for her autograph as she laughed from the bench.
“It's awesome to play in, that's probably one of the loudest arenas I've been in,” Clephane said. “So, it's just really exciting to have the support there and [to] be able to mingle with the kids and see how excited they get.”
Sophomore Marie Kiefer recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in front of the youthful Worthen crowd.
“The energy is just contagious when they're all there screaming their heads off,” Kiefer said. “So it was great.”
Head coach Brady Sallee said he initiated this tradition at his previous position as head coach for Eastern Illinois University and wanted to continue it at Ball State when he took over as head coach in 2012.
“You hope that these kids see what these young ladies are doing out on the floor and say, ‘I want to do that one day,’ and they start going home to mom and dad and say alright, ‘How can I go be Anna Clephane? How can I go be Marie Kiefer,’” Sallee said. “That's how these guys started, they saw something ignited and they went to work. So for me, it's way bigger than just having an awesome crowd but [we’re] so thankful for the people that got behind this and we're excited about doing it and you know, it can only get bigger.”
The Cardinals, who are now 1-1, were looking to get back on track after dropping their season opener to Tennessee Tech (1-1) 68-63. While Ball State found itself in foul trouble early in that contest, not allowing them to execute a full-court press, they didn’t encounter the same issue in their victory over the Red Wolves (0-7). The press worked for Ball State today, as they forced 26 turnovers in the first half and 31 total.
While the Cardinals clicked on almost every level against the Red Wolves, they continued to struggle from beyond the three-point line. The Cardinals shot 5-31 from three on the day, putting their season total at 7-48 (14.5%).
When asked if Ball State’s three-point struggles were a concern, Sallee answered with no hesitation, “No.”
At halftime, Ball State and IU East had 20 rebounds a piece, a stat Sallee was none too pleased about. He said he challenged the Cardinals to improve on that end, and they responded, out rebounding the Red Wolves 31-18 in the second half and 51-38 total.
Sallee said the Cardinals’ buy-in mentality, even two games into the season, is why they’re able to make these adjustments so quickly. Clephane said buying in and responding to challenges is much easier being on a team that is so tight-knit.
“I think it stems from our love for each other and our competitiveness,” Clephane said. “If you put a task in front of us, we're gonna get it done. [Sallee] came in at halftime, we were struggling with rebounds, we go out there and we change it. So I think it's really important for us to be able to have a goal and then conquer that.”
For the first time since March 11, during the Cardinals’ victory over Toledo in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament, senior Estel Puiggros returned to the floor for Ball State against the Red Wolves. Puiggros was only in the game for four minutes, as Sallee said she still “needs to get her feet under her” due to her only recently being released to play.
Clephane said she doesn’t think she’s ever been on a team that has been able to put 12 different players on the floor and be comfortable. Sallee added while it’s tough to find playing time for everyone, it’s a good problem to have.
“It feels awfully good to have a full roster,” Sallee said. “...It does mean something when Estel hits the floor, it does mean something with Anna back on the floor. It’s not just, ‘Okay, we got a full roster,’ there's a special group out there and you see it with the way we play. You see maybe somebody struggling somewhere and somebody comes in for them and they pick them up.”
Ball State returns to action Nov. 17 against Butler University (1-1) in Muncie, Ind., at Worthen Arena at 6:30 p.m.
“We need the crowd to get behind this team and come in and support the Ball State [vs.] Butler rivalry and I'm hoping that it does build to a rivalry,” Sallee said. “It hasn't been much of one, but we're more than willing and we're ready for that.”