SMEDLEY: After three years, my personal connection to Ball State women's basketball momentarily overcame professionalism

The women's basketball team poses for a picture on the court after the game against Central Michigan on Feb. 21 at Worthen Arena. The team scored 78 points in total. Paola Fernandez Jimenez, DN
The women's basketball team poses for a picture on the court after the game against Central Michigan on Feb. 21 at Worthen Arena. The team scored 78 points in total. Paola Fernandez Jimenez, DN

CLEVELAND – With 6:33 remaining in the second quarter of Ball State women’s basketball’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament semifinal matchup against Kent State, the Golden Flashes took a 21-11 lead, their first double-digit advantage of the game. 

Perched in the upper bowl of Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse next to my colleagues Elijah Poe and Caleb Zuver covering the Cardinals’ quest for their first MAC Championship since 2009, my personal feelings eclipsed my professionalism. My legs planted firm in the ground as I pushed back my chair from the long desk, and I stood up. 

“I’m gonna go take a walk,” I told Elijah and Caleb. 

I was nervous.

In this field, it is ethically irresponsible to let any bias you may have toward a team affect your coverage of said team. At this moment, it was incredibly difficult to separate the two, and since becoming a journalist, I don’t get caught up in games like I used to. 

I’m even moving away from my former emotional attachment to professional teams like the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts (never the Cincinnati Reds, though).

I walked down the stairs from my seat, made my way to the concourse and caught an elevator to take me down to the media room. The area was occupied by a handful of journalists and photographers working on content for the previous game, an overtime thriller between Buffalo and Toledo. 

The only sound in the room was the clacking of computer keyboards, but it was soon joined by the constant crunch of the complimentary potato chips I was downing with record speed. I know it’s not good to stress eat, but my fingernails were already nawed down beyond use. 

After I finished the chips, I grabbed a water bottle and walked back to the elevator. But before I rejoined my colleagues at media row, I decided to finish calming my nerves by taking a lap around the concourse. 

By the time I returned to my seat, it was halftime and Ball State trailed 33-24. I watched the second half next to Ball State’s beat reporters, and although my stress eased, the Cardinals still fell 65-50. Once again, Ball State failed to reach – let alone win – the MAC Championship despite an incredible regular season (28-5). 

Right before the final buzzer sounded, I took a look down at the Cardinals’ cheerleaders, Code Red Dance Team and the new and improved (I guess) Charlie Cardinal mascot. Finally, my feelings were fully realized. 

“I’m not invested in this team because it’s Ball State, I’m invested in this team because of the people involved.” 

It wouldn’t matter if this team had Cardinals or Golden Flashes or Rockets across their jerseys; as long as head coach Brady Sallee is leading the charge and players like Annie Rauch, Estel Puiggros and Ally Becki are on the same squad, I have an emotional connection that I can’t shake. 

If I’m honest, maybe that’s why I was willing to take a step back from being the beat reporter for this team this season after two seasons of being the primary reporter. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to cover women’s basketball in Cleveland. 

When I signed up for MAC Tournament credentials in February, I was under the assumption that Ball State men’s basketball (the team I was primary beat reporter for during the winter) would be my team of coverage. However, as fate had it, I was back covering women’s hoops.

This was my third consecutive year covering Ball State women’s basketball in the MAC Tournament, and my second straight with boots on the ground in Cleveland. Although I was the sole beat reporter for the squad my freshman year, I didn’t have the chance to travel and cover Ball State’s runner-up finish in-person. 

Maybe my personal connection to this group comes down to the fact that it was my first-ever beat reporting role in my short career as a journalist. However, I choose to think it’s because of the quality of human beings I have been able to work with for nearly my entire time in this profession. 

Not only do I have enhanced professional relationships with all three players previously mentioned, but I would venture to say I have solid professional relationships with almost all of the 14 members of the roster. I’ve even been able to maintain some professional relationships with past players like Anna Clephane and Thelma Dis Agustsdottir. 

It might sound shameless, but I want to thank each player I’ve been able to cover on this team for making it easy to do so and for being more approachable than any other group I’ve been around in this field. 

Even if I’m not friends with most players on the team, I know people who are, therefore learning more about the players behind the jerseys. It really does make a difference both personally and professionally seeing these people you interview on a weekly basis outside of the workplace and being greeted with warmth and a friendly conversation. 

And no, that isn’t the case with every team you cover as a journalist. 

Yet the biggest reason I have such a vested interest in this team comes down to its coach. While I’ve talked to every assistant on the staff and have a professional relationship with most of them, the connection I have built with Brady Sallee stands above the rest. 

No matter who I have talked to about Brady, whether within the program or not, only has good things to say about the 12th-year head coach. I’ve experienced that first-hand, and at a far greater level than any other coach I’ve ever covered. 

Sallee makes it known that I can reach out to him for any story, question or topic I need information for, and we’re able to have quality conversation off the record as well. So I can’t help but root for the team that he leads. 

I wanted to be there for fifth-year Annie and Estel’s first-ever MAC title. I wanted to be there for Brady’s first ever conference title in his 20 seasons as a head coach. 

Even though it will never come for Annie or Estel, it’s still possible for people like Ally, Nyla Hampton, Sydney Bolden and others in this program. And it’s still possible for Brady until the day he retires.

This will likely be my last week ever covering this program, but no matter where I am, this group will always have my support due to a deep personal connection that spans across professional boundaries.

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at or X @KyleSmedley_.


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