“This will be a team that I remember forever,” Brady Sallee said.
Despite winning the most games (26) of his 11-season tenure as head coach for Ball State Women’s Basketball, Sallee forged a connection with the 2022-23 Cardinals that goes beyond basketball. Despite the season ending with a loss in the second round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) rather than in the NCAA Tournament, Sallee will still look back on this season fondly.
“The amount of wins and all that stuff, it's all good, but this was a special group because of the people and the commitment and investment that they made in each other,” Sallee said. “I saw what they poured into one another on a daily basis. When you can get a team to do that and really be genuine with it, it makes for a special year.”
Ball State’s (26-9) 79-62 loss to Memphis (22-10) sealed the end of two Cardinal careers. Graduate student Thelma Dis Agustsdottir finished with 11 points, and over her five years in the program, she went from shy on new soil to someone who found family in her teammates and coaches.
She went out with a bang, breaking the program’s record for most 3-pointers of all-time with her second basket from beyond the arc. Dis Agustsdottir ended her career with 325 3-pointers.
“She worked her way to it, and you always love the stories where kids earn it,” Sallee said. “She's somebody that put a lot of trust in us coming here from Iceland, and to see her career turn out the way it has is a great story.”
Anna Clephane ended her time with the red and white doing what she did on numerous occasions throughout the season, leading the Cardinals in points with 15. The redshirt senior could be seen crying and being consoled by Sallee on the sideline at the end of the game.
This season Clephane came back from her second torn ACL over five years as a Cardinal, and Sallee said seeing her earn All-MAC First Team status and lead the Cardinals in scoring with that in mind proves the dedication Clephane put into Ball State.
“She's awfully special to me,” Sallee said. “Great kid, loyal as the day is long. What she's poured into this program, literal blood, sweat and tears, not many would do it.”
After defeating Belmont (23-12) 101-86 in the first round, Ball State’s second round WNIT matchup against the Tigers got off to the worst start of the season. The Cardinals didn’t score until the 4:15 mark in the first quarter, as Memphis went on a 20-0 run to start.
While Sallee didn’t shy away from Ball State’s early struggles, he thought the Cardinals remained consistent in how they responded.
“Clearly they came out and socked us square in the mouth. We couldn’t make a shot, they were making them all,” Sallee said. “ I think at that point we had a choice, and we've made that choice all year long. We battled and we got ourselves into a position where we had a chance.”
Outscored 26-10 in the first quarter, Ball State came back with a 22-13 second quarter and a 21-21 third, yet were outscored 19-9 in the fourth. The Cardinals never led, but cut the Tigers’ lead down to four at one point after being down as much as 20.
Sallee said in the fourth quarter, Memphis brought intensity and physicality Ball State couldn’t match. The biggest contributor to the Cardinals’ loss, Sallee said, was something the head coach preached all season.
Rebounding. Ball State was outdone 44-20.
Fifth-year guard Jamirah Shutes led the Tigers with 23 points, while junior guard Emani Jefferson added 15 points. Memphis goes on to face Bowling Green (29-6), another Mid-American Conference (MAC) team, in the Super 16 March 23 at 6 p.m. in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The Cardinals didn’t win the MAC Tournament like they set out to do from day one, but Ball State had its winningest season since 2008-09, the year the Cardinals won the aforementioned conference tournament and defeated Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, unsurprisingly, Sallee said his biggest takeaway from the season was the group of 12 he coached.
“I think it's easy to root for a group like this when they play as hard as they do,” Sallee said. “It'll forever be one of those teams that I think a lot of people will remember. The way this group played for the name across the front of their chest was awfully special.”