Winning women in Saluki sports
March 3, 2023
The Saluki women’s athletic program has had its fair share of success in its history. From the softball team appearing in four Women’s College World Series during the 1970s to the basketball team making a Sweet Sixteen in 1987 and not losing a conference game for the previous two seasons up until that point. There have been impactful teams, players and coaches throughout that have contributed to a winning culture and family feel.
The Daily Egyptian talked to three different women, Kerri Blaylock, Cindy Stein and Makenzie Silvey, who have stamped their mark on sports at SIU.
We’ll first travel to the softball diamond where Blaylock resided. She was the head softball coach at SIU for 23 years and is still working part time in the Saluki athletic department after recently retiring. During her tenure in Carbondale, Blaylock racked up the most wins all-time for a coach not just in SIU softball, but in Saluki Athletics overall. But before she became a great coach, she was a supreme pitcher.
“My dad introduced me to fastpitch softball and I fell in love,” Blaylock said.
Her passion for the sport coincided with her talent during her playing career in high school and the University of Evansville. Blaylock posted an elite 1.54 ERA with a 77-48 pitching record and essentially holding all of the pitching records at her alma mater.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting before earning her master’s in business administration. As a graduate assistant, Blaylock became an assistant coach and was later inducted into Evansville’s Hall of Fame in 1995 for her success as an athlete. Little did she know, that wouldn’t be the half of her imprint on softball and sports, eventually becoming the winningest Saluki coach ever.
The record for coaching wins across all sports was previously held by Itchy Jones, longtime SIU head baseball coach who the university’s baseball stadium is now named after. Blaylock’s father and Jones attended high school together before he later introduced his daughter to softball.
“Jones is from my hometown…we know each other as family,” Blaylock said.
Her feelings surrounding the record were reflective of her appreciation and gratitude for the university.
“It shows the longevity and loyalty I have to this school. I love Southern Illinois University and I loved coaching for SIU,” Blaylock said.
She was unable to accomplish this feat alone, attributing the program’s success and support to the help of her assistant coaches, administrators and Kay Brechtelsbauer, who she took the reigns from in 2000.
“She was a veteran coach…for 32 years…she taught me the ins and outs of everything,” Blaylock said.
One assistant coach in particular, Jen Sewell,the current softball coach, worked with Blaylock for 14 years.
“Jen was hugely important to me because she was kind of my right-hand person,” Blaylock said.
Other assistant coaches such as Kenzi Tate and Kenzie Wagner also supplied influence that empowered female softball athletes to bring out the best of their abilities and create a winning environment.
This environment was not formed by athletic qualities alone, as Blaylock and her staff worked to instill more into the players that they could carry with them throughout life.
“Hard work, responsibility, and accountability…unselfishness…I hope these are the qualities that I have that I hope they have,” Blaylock said. “I had such great kids that came here that played for me that are now productive people in society.”
Blaylock is still actively helping where she can at Southern Illinois University in her post-coaching ventures. First, staying on as a volunteer assistant for the team to aid Sewell in her new head coaching position, before moving to help with scholarship and financial aid in the athletic department. Her responsibility in these roles were similar to when she was still at the helm of the softball program.
“I still to this day will call up… and have coffee or go with the kids and try to mentor them in any way possible,” Blaylock said. “Any kind of help that they need… I always just want to be there, never to get in the way…but to just be a help in any way I can.”
“I miss Kerri Blaylock,” said former SIU women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein.
Stein turned multiple basketball programs around, making an immediate impact like she did when she took over as head coach at Southern Illinois. Stein is our next woman in Saluki sports history as we look at her influence on the basketball court.
A journeywoman in her time as an assistant and head coach, taking her talents as far as Miami University to The University of Missouri, Stein had her sights on becoming a coach since she was a pre-teen.
“I always knew I wanted to coach…when I was in fifth grade, just something I always wanted to do…I was just a hoop head,” Stein said.
Basketball was Stein’s favorite sport growing up, watching Big Ten basketball as a child, even when women’s games weren’t broadcast. She grew to learn the game well and even to teach it to those in her neighborhood.
“We had a 6 ‘4 kid come to our neighborhood, I had to teach her how to do a layup,” Stein laughed. “She ended up being All Big-10.”
Before coaching, Stein played basketball at Illinois Central College then transferred to the University of Illinois.
“I learned that you can’t do it by yourself…be physically and mentally prepared all the time. Teamwork was really important,” Stein said. “You had to be very disciplined…whether it’s disciplined in staying in shape or…making sure your academics are on set.”
Stein loved to pass the ball, not just because she had great scorers surrounding her on the court, but also because of her will to win. It showed in her numbers as Stein accumulated the sixth most assists with 323 and the highest career average for assists per game at 5.6 as a Fighting Illini.
As she knew since elementary school, Stein made her transition to coaching, eventually working her way to head coaching at Emporia State and the University of Missouri. By connecting with her community and gaining lifelong friends in Emporia, Kansas to go to several NCAA tournaments and facing top competition at Mizzou, Stein acknowledged the significance of her previous homes before SIU.
“[Emporia] is a special place because there’s so many things that go into winning…our community support…it was a total community embracing what we were trying to do,” Stein said.
The business side of basketball, such as recruiting, assistant coaches and building a cohesive team, proved to be imperative when Stein coached at Mizzou. She was correct in this formula as her teams exemplified the strategies coached by Stein and her staffs, with Stein receiving several Coach of the Year awards along the way of her various coaching stints.
“I could care less…that’s not why I coach. I see more reward on watching a kid trying to perfect a hook shot or an up and under move…when you see that light bulb come on,” Stein said. “All those awards are all established because you have really good people around you.”
Tangible evidence of Stein building a community during her time at SIU was by giving back with her players. Game-worn jerseys were auctioned off to raise over $4,000 for cancer treatment, and Stein began an annual “Donate Life” event, where the women’s basketball game was used to spread awareness for organ donation.
“We had to establish great students first then get out in the community…those are really just meaningful things and you’re trying to teach how important it is…” Stein said. “You gotta be able to pay it back.”
A great student and player that was established under Stein’s coaching is our third and final profile: Makenzie Silvey. She played five years at SIU, becoming a starter as a freshman and excelling, eventually becoming the all-time leading scorer for SIU and ending her career with 2,002 career points.
Similar to Blaylock, it was Silvey’s dad who led her to her favorite sport.
“I was definitely the best at (basketball) and to have my dad coach me…he pushed me to be as good as I could be,” Silvey said.
She would grow into an exceptional athlete, playing AAU basketball during high school and being recruited by Stein and Southern Illinois. Silvey spoke on her recruiting process.
“It was awesome, I would do it all over again if I could…Coach Stein really made me feel like I was their priority, they were my first offer,” Stein said. “But I wanted to go somewhere where I could make an impact…and be in a good program with good people.”
Averaging 15.5 points over seasons, it was destined for Silvey to break the all-time scoring record, but it was made easier with support from former players, one of which being Cartaesha Macklin, who held the record Silvey broke. Macklin graduated several years before Silvey even joined SIU but was still around to help the team.
“She was always so supportive…she had told me years ago that I could break her record like probably my sophomore year,” Silvey said.
Another important person for her path was Kylie Giebelhausen, who was a senior during Silvey’s first year.
“She was a great teammate, she was the only senior, but she was a great leader…she was just someone that I could always go to…on or off the court,” Silvey said.
Silvey is currently working on becoming a certified public accountant after earning her masters this past December. She pointed out some attributes of her time as a player that helped her in her career aspirations.
“You have to work hard…nothing’s just going to be handed to you,” Silvey said.
She has some advice and encouragement similar to what she received as a younger player.
“Even if you’re not playing as much as you’d like or scoring as much…your role is still important,” Silvey said. “Just take it all in…and the memories are awesome.”
The awards, records and achievements attained by these three women are a glimpse of the iceberg in terms of what has been achieved by Saluki women in sports. With the family-like nature that has been formed to support all those who pass through the athletic program, there is no doubt these accolades will continue to grow.
Sports reporter Howard Woodard can be reached at [email protected].
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