By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — In January, it appeared Kara Schilli was the lone survivor of the original 2005-06 freshman class for the Indiana State women’s basketball team.
• Leah Phillips’ season appeared to be lost after she tore an ACL in her knee.
• Tiffany Reida had to call it a career after just one college season due to back surgery.
Things have changed a bit.
Phillips returned for her Senior Day, providing a needed emotional lift, and she hopes to be a part of a tournament run.
Following that Senior Day win, coach Jim Wiedie suggested to Reida that she suit up in Sycamore blue and white again. The ISU senior thought he was joking.
But technically, she was still on ISU’s roster.
When her basketball career was thought to be over, Reida’s original plan was to transfer to Purdue to study pharmacy. Instead, she continued her studies at ISU as with a pre-med curriculum.
All three ISU seniors will graduate in May, and all three will be in uniform today as Indiana State battles Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals.
“Kara, Tiff and I are roommates on this trip,” Leah Phillips said Thursday from St. Charles, Mo. “We’re having a blast. The three of us came in [as freshmen and] we were extremely hard workers. You know the three of us are going to work hard. So we’re really looking forward to playing together again.”
Phillips came back to play an emotional Senior Day game in which ISU defeated Bradley 62-58. She added to her program’s fifth-best all-time total in 3-pointers in that game, but her presence alone seemed to spark her teammates.
Maybe that could happen again.
“I think that we’re still a team to be scared of,” Phillips said. “People are calling us the walking wounded here, but we’re ready to do some damage here at the tourney.”
Phillips is risking further damage to her knee.
“Obviously our [team] doctors weren’t thrilled about me playing on Senior Night,” she said. “After I saw that was success, I knew that I wanted to play again.”
Phillips sought an opinion from another doctor and decided to go ahead and plan to play in the tournament despite some risks.
“I could have a cartilage tear,” she said. “It’s a a risk I’m willing to take. It’s unilikely because of the brace. I’ve had a great four years here. I just don’t want it to end the way it ended.”
Another risk is the bones of the knee could strike a nerve: “It’s a long shot. It’s like getting struck by lightning,” Phillips said.
While Phillips sat on the bench in street clothes, Reida suited up in her old No. 4 jersey on last weekend’s road trip to Creighton and Drake. She was a combined 0 for 6 from the field, but “defensively she hasn’t missed a beat,” Phillips said.
Excuse her for not knocking down a shot; Reida hasn’t played any basketball since a WNIT loss to IU in Hulman Center in 2006. And she got two practices and a shootaround in before jumping on the bus for one of the toughest and longest road trips in the Valley.
“Defense has always been my main focus,” Reida said. “I was a little rusty, a little slow. I basically went as hard as I could.”
Reida, who has attended as many games as possible the last two years, said she just hopes to provide some rest for her teammates in the backcourt, where ISU is especially shorthanded. ISU lost All-MVC guard Kelsey Luna and Deja Mattox to ACL injuries, and point guard Bianca Jarrett was dismissed from the team. (Mattox and Jarrett would have been almost sure-fire picks to the MVC all-freshman team.)
ISU still has plenty of freshmen who have picked up lots of valuable experience this season.
And suddenly the Sycamores have three seniors.
“The back is sore, it causes me problems, but it’s worth it for these last two weeks,” Reida said. “I’ve always wanted one more chance to get out and play.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (812) 231-4357. Read his web log at blogs.tribstar.com/craigpearson.