Redhawks prove they're still a force in OVC

Sunday, January 11, 2009
ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
Southeast Missouri State's Sonya Daugherty makes a layup against Eastern Illinois' Dominique Sims during the final minutes of the second half Saturday.

On a day when change was heralded for the Southeast Missouri State athletic department with the introduction of the new athletic director, the Redhawks women's basketball team showed some things don't have to change to be good.

Southeast picked up its biggest win of the season by rallying for a 58-51 victory against Ohio Valley Conference leader Eastern Illinois.

And with that, the athletic department's most successful high-profile program kept its place as a big-time player in the Ohio Valley Conference.

"I think the biggest importance was we were playing a team picked to win the league on our home floor," Southeast third-year coach John Ishee said, "and if we lost this, we would have dropped three games back in the loss column. That's just a lot to overcome.

"There's a lot of basketball to be played yet, but it gives us a fighting chance."

The Redhawks are fighting back after injuries contributed to a rough start. After losing its first two OVC games at home, the team now has won three straight contests -- all in OVC play -- to reach 3-2 in the league and 7-8 overall.

For the Southeast women, the two-time defending league champions, being in the middle of the OVC pack is not a familiar place. But with the men still searching for their first league victory this year and the football program mired in the lower division of the league, the women's basketball program is the one that can warm the winter nights in Cape Girardeau.

Ishee said that kind of pressure wasn't on his mind coming into Saturday's game.

"I really don't think in terms of that," he said. "To be totally honest, the only time I thought about that is when we went down to Mizzou, because we felt like we had the winningest program in the state the last three, four years. The last two teams here could have really played with that team."

The Redhawks weren't able to this year -- losing 60-31 -- but not a lot of Southeast programs can compete with the state's big school. Or say they've played with the likes of Oklahoma in an NCAA tournament game. Or even say they've beaten in-state rival Missouri State recently, which Southeast did for its opening women's win this year.

Say what you want about the origin of the program's success, the women's basketball team still is making waves. It is the department's standard-bearer, qualifying for postseason play the last three seasons. And even if the first OVC title and NCAA appearance in 2005-06 was erased from the record books, it's still registered in the memory books.

Southeast for four years has been the program to beat in the OVC -- producing a player of the year (Tatiana Conceicao, 2005), a national rebounding leader (Lachelle Lyles, 2007), and the school's first Olympic athlete (New Zealand's Natalie Purcell) -- and Saturday showed the reign is not over yet.

The women's basketball program has what Southeast covets in its programs -- local players making an impact and a strong presence in the St. Louis region.

Senior forward Rachel Blunt is a Dexter product and Missy Whitney before her played at Charleston and Three Rivers before being all-OVC in 2007-08.

Freshman point guard Bianca Beck was leading St. Louis school Incarnate Word to the Class 5 state championship game last year, and Sonya Daugherty came to Cape Girardeau four years ago after setting the high school career scoring record for the St. Louis area while at Hancock.

"If you can win with in-state kids first, you have to do that," Ishee said. "It helps with the fan base, it helps with future recruiting. If you win, have success, stay close to home and get a good education, that's the advantage of recruiting close to home."

Beck, who was solid Saturday night, said the win was important to her because Eastern Illinois was in her mix of schools when she was being recruited.

"I had to prove I came to the right school," she said. "SEMO was the two-time defending champions, and I wanted to come to a winning program.

"You hear about SEMO women's basketball [in St. Louis], but after a Mizzou. It's definitely present. I knew it was a good program or I wouldn't have come here."

That's the kind of reputation Southeast wants for all of its programs.

Toby Carrig is the editor of the regional Web site semoball.com. You can e-mail him at: tcarrig@semissourian.com.

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