Salukis among nation’s most improved

By Thomas Donley, @TdonleyDE

Hiring Cindy Stein has the effect of doing the hokey pokey for a women’s basketball program. 

Stein has turned around every program she has coached, turning losing teams into winners and mediocre teams into title contenders.

She took Emporia State from 12-14 in 1995-1996—her first season there—to 33-1 and Division II national runner up in 1997-1998.



Stein doubled Missouri’s win total from 11 to 22 by her third season in Columbia and took Illinois Central College from 16-16 to 32-4 in her only season there.

Her tenure at SIU has been no different. In two seasons, Stein has taken the Salukis from winning five games in 2013-2014 to a 17-13 record this season. 

SIU’s 12-game improvement on last season’s record was the highest in school history. 

The returns of guards sophomore Rishonda Napier and junior Cartaesha Macklin from redshirt seasons and the emergence of freshman guard/forward Kylie Gieblehausen helped with that progression, but Stein said the key to turning around a program is to build trust. 

“You’ve got to have kids believe in your system,” Stein said. “They’ve got to believe in each other, and they’ve got to work together. A lot of teams, even teams with great talent, fail because they don’t believe in one another or they refuse to work together. Whether it’s trust among the team or trust in the coaches, if that trust isn’t there, things fall apart.” 

In addition to the overall improvement, the Salukis reached several milestones, such as their longest winning streak in eight years and the most All-Missouri Valley Conference honors since 2006-2007. Stein said SIU’s success this year presents a new challenge for the program. 

“There’s no way we’re going to be able to achieve as many accomplishments,” Stein said. “But we can take the team to greater heights.” 

Only two schools in all of Division I—Ohio and UT-Arlington—improved their records by more than the Salukis this season. 

Ohio won nine games in 2013-2014, relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores. Junior guard Mariah Byard was the only upperclassman to average more than 20 minutes per game that year. 

The 2014-2015 Bobcats used the experience they gained last season to compile the best record in school history and make Ohio’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years at 27-5. 

UTA rode an influx of talented freshmen and transfers to a 13-game turnaround in 2014-2015. Freshman center Rebekah Van Dijk started all 30 games for the Mavericks and led the team in scoring with 13 points per game. Freshman guard Cierra Johnson was third on the team in both starts and scoring average. 

UTA coach Krista Gerlich credited the program’s new basketball facility and the school’s proximity to the home stadiums of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers with giving the Mavericks an advantage in recruiting new players. 

Stein said SIU’s success this year has afforded the Salukis better recruiting opportunities. 

Napier said earning her first career first-team All-MVC honor this season was more meaningful than words can describe, but added that the Salukis cannot be complacent with this year’s success.

“Obviously, we didn’t make our goal of making the postseason,” Napier said. “And we still have a lot of work to do, so we just have to go back to the drawing board.” 

Napier said she plans to spend the summer working on her strength and conditioning. 

Giebelhausen said she enjoyed the Salukis’ turnaround after her high school basketball experiences.

“Especially since my high school may not have been as successful as other people who come here,” Giebelhausen said. “I didn’t think about their record in my decision to come here, but to be successful in my first year was amazing, especially with all the little records.”

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.