October 30, 2023 

2023-24 Missouri Valley Conference preview

University of Northern Iowa headlines a strong slate of teams

With four teams earning at least one first-place vote in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll based on the annual survey of the league’s coaches, sports information directors and media, the MVC women’s basketball season will be highly competitive with tough teams from top to bottom.

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The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) Panthers topped the poll for the first time in school history, followed by Drake, Illinois State and Belmont. UNI forward Grace Boffeli, a 6-1 junior, was named preseason Player of the Year.

MVC 2023-24 Preseason Poll

1. UNI (33)

2. Drake (12)

3. Illinois State (2)

4. Belmont (1)

5. Missouri State

6. University of Illinois Chicago

7. Murray State

8, Southern Illinois

9. Indiana State

10. Valparaiso

11. Evansville

12. Bradley

Preseason All-MVC First Team

*Grace Boffeli, F, Jr., UNI

Grace Berg, F, Gr., Drake

Kate Dinnebier, G, Jr., Drake

Maya McDermott, G, Jr., UNI

DeAnna Wilson, F, Gr., Illinois State

Katelyn Young, F, Sr., Murray State

*Preseason Player of the Year

At the MVC WBB Tipoff held Oct. 24 at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill, players and coaches from each of the 12 teams discussed what they have worked on over summer and what they expect in the upcoming season.

Belmont

2022-23 record: 23-11 (17-3 MVC, 2nd in conference)

Head coach: Bart Brooks (7th season)

Belmont players Tessa Miller (left) and Tuti Jones pose with head coach Bart Brooks at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

After falling to Drake in the MVC Championship game in March, Belmont head coach Bart Brooks hasn’t set a goal to win the championship this season. Rather, he wants to play Belmont basketball and live up to their standards.

“We don’t do goals anymore; we’ve taken goals away,” Brooks told The Next. “We try to live up to our standard and we try to set a really high standard and try to do it every day. And then at the end of the year, hopefully we’ll be at our best.”

Brooks will look to veteran leadership from Tuti Jones, a junior guard who utilized her redshirt year in 2022-23 after suffering a season-ending injury early in the season, and Tessa Miller, a junior forward who brings a fiery toughness that can change games, Brooks said.

“They are probably two of the most selfless players I’ve ever coached in that their competitiveness shows up in ways that don’t necessarily show up on the box score. And they’re okay with that,” he said.

Bradley

2022-23 record: 4-28 (1-19 MVC, 12th in conference)

Head coach: Kate Popovec-Goss (2nd season)

Bradley players Isis Fitch (left) and Alex Rouse pose with head coach Kate Popovec-Goss at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

In her second year as head coach at Bradley, Kate Popovec-Goss wants to get back to fundamentals.

“Quite frankly, I think one of the biggest mistakes I made as a first-year head coach was getting too focused on the big picture and forgetting about all the little intricacies,” Popovec-Goss told The Next. “A lot of our summer work was geared toward fundamentals. Every single day we did passing, we did finishing, we did ball handling.”

With some new players and skill sets, they have been working on their transition offense.

“We’ve got more depth, specifically at our guard spot this year, but I’ve always wanted to play more up tempo, and give our girls a little bit more freedom to create on the offensive end from their defense,” she said.

Drake

2022-23 record: 22-10 (14-6 MVC, 4th in conference)

Head coach: Allison Pohlman (3rd season)

Drake players Grace Berg (left), Katie Dinnebier and Anna Miller pose with head coach Allison Pohlman at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

After winning the MVC Tournament and taking Louisville to wire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Drake head coach Allison Pohlman’s goal is to continue the momentum they gained at the end of last season.

“I think ultimately [the goal] is just to continue to play Drake women’s basketball at a very, very high level and continue over the course of a season to appear that we love this game and to be really the best versions of ourselves once we get to March,” Pohlman told The Next.

A competitive non-conference schedule which includes in-state powerhouses Iowa State and Iowa (who they took to overtime before losing 86-92 last season) and BIG EAST contender Creighton, will prepare Drake for the conference and postseason.

“What I think our non-conference schedule always does is prepare us and help us to grow and to identify different caveats of where we need to continue to show improvement,” she said.

Evansville

2023-23 record: 11-19 (6-14 MVC, 9th in conference)

Head coach: Robyn Scherr-Wells (3rd season)

Evansville players, sisters Alana Striverson (left) and Kynidi Mason-Striverson pose with head coach Robyn Scherr-Wells at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

With 10 new players, head coach Robyn Scherr-Wells is looking to continue to build on what she has done in her first several seasons at Evansville.

“Even though we’re a little young and a little inexperienced, I think this could end up being my most talented team I’ve had at Evansville,” Scherr-Wells told The Next. “I know it’s going to be a process but I also think this team is just going to get better and better as the season goes.”

Their style of play will be similar to what they are known for — pushing the ball in transition, playing fast tempo and pressing on the defensive end.

“We’ve got the depth to really get after teams defensively and bring some full-court pressure,” she said. “Those are things that we’ve been working really hard at in the preseason.”


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Illinois State

2022-23 record: 24-9 (17-3 MVC, 1st in conference)

Head coach: Kristen Gillespie (7th season)

Illinois State players DeAnna Wilson (left), Maya Wong and Kate Bullman pose with head coach Kristen Gillespie at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

After winning the MVC regular season under head coach Kristen Gillespie last season, the Redbirds look to contend again with seven returners, including three starters – Maya Wong, DeAnna Wilson and Kate Bullman.

“They do a great job and they’re battle tested, too,” Gillespie told The Next. “Our young players know they’ve won two championships and they play significantly, so their voice carries a great weight in our locker room.”

Gillespie hopes the seven newcomers will mesh with the veterans to make a run in the continually improving league.

“The tough thing is the league just keeps getting better. It’s just such a challenge every year,” she said. “Every day it’s how do we just take a step forward and continue to reach our goals?

Because we have seven returners and seven newcomers, I think it’s gonna take us a little time to find our footing. My goal is that our team reaches its potential.”

Indiana State

2022-23 record: 11-19 (6-14 MVC, 10th in conference)

Head coach: Chad Killinger (3rd season)

Indiana State players Chelsea Cain (left) and Bella Finnegan pose with head coach Chad Killinger at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

Indiana State head coach Chad Killinger realizes the MVC is a loaded conference and makes no bones about the uphill battle his team faces. But that doesn’t deter him from continuing his game plan.

“We know where we’re picked. I’m not out here saying we’re trying to win the championship this year,” Killinger told The Next. “But we have the talent to compete for it. And that’s what we’re going to shoot for every day. We’re trying to bring that consistency and once we do that, now we can get to where people take us seriously as a team that might have a shot to win it one day.”

Killinger’s team is closer to a turnaround than their 11-19 overall record last season would indicate.

“Our kids really battled,” he said. “I’m a possession counter. We were 32 possessions from winning 22 games versus winning 11 games last year.”

Missouri State

2022-23 record: 20-12 (14-6 MVC, 5th in conference)

Head coach: Beth Cunningham (2nd season)

Missouri State players Paige Rocca (left) and Kennedy Taylor pose with head coach Beth Cunningham at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

In her second season as head coach, Beth Cunningham continues to meld her squad which includes eight newcomers this year.

“I think all of them are different from each other. But I think it’s just kind of a matter of when they can all help us,” she said. “I think it’s more a matter of when and how quickly it clicks for freshmen and how quickly they come along.”

But, no matter the youth and inexperience of the team, Cunningham always sets high goals.

“I think the goal always remains the same; certainly we want to be top of the league. I always say everything I do, I’m always in it to win it,” Cunningham told The Next. “But there’s a lot of things that have to go into it and have to go right for those kinds of things to happen. But I don’t think the goals and expectations ever change.”

Murray State

2022-23 record: 15-16 (7-13 MVC, 8th in conference)

Head coach: Rechelle Turner (7th season)

Murray State players Katelyn Young (left) and Hannah McKay pose with head coach Rechelle Turner at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

Making the switch from the Ohio Valley Conference to the MVC last year was a learning curve for Murray State head coach Rechelle Turner.

“We realized our first year in The Valley that it was going to take some recruiting classes to get big enough, strong enough and fast enough to compete,” Turner told The Next. “So, we were trying to look for a way that could help us maybe rise in the standings quicker.”

With a mix of transfers and game-ready freshmen, Turner plans for a more up tempo style of play this season.

“Our roster fits extremely well to the up tempo style,” she said. “We want to shoot more threes. We want to play fast. We want to get out of the half court game that tends to be popular in The Valley with all the bigs.”

Southern Illinois

2022-23 record: 8-12 (12-19 MVC, 7th in conference)

Head coach: Kelly Bond-White (2nd season)

Southern Illinois players Shemera Williams (left), Laniah Randle and Quierra Love pose with head coach Kelly Bond-White at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

With a new staff and seven new players, Southern Illinois head coach Kelly Bond-White certainly had her work cut out for her last season.

“We had the valleys and we had the peaks,” Bond-White told The Next. “With anything when you’re bringing that many new faces together, just trying to find some continuity and our brand new staff that hadn’t been together. But I was really proud of our group because I think you saw the growth from our first home game to our last, which one was negative 50 and the last one was plus 50. But the thing that I was most proud of is how the girls began to stick together.”

This season, she plans to continue that momentum and gel the team together even more.

“The plan is to disrupt. We’re going to take it a step further and create some chaos out there,” she said. “We’re looking to just run. We led the league in steals last year which led to extra possessions for us. I think you’ll see improved effort in the half-court defense this year, and I think that’ll help us really take that next step.”

UIC

2022-23 record: 19-17 (9-11 MVC, 6th in conference)

Head coach: Ashleen Bracey (2nd season)

UIC players Kristian Young (left), Jaida McCloud and Dais’Ja Trotter pose with head coach Ashleen Bracey at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

UIC had an impressive showing in their first season in the MVC, and head coach Ashleen Bracey wasn’t surprised with her team’s success.

“I’m a competitor and every season I set out to compete for a championship,” Bracey told The Next. “Taking this job, we had pieces and I knew we would be able to add from the portal because the game is changing. I guess what surprised me most was how quickly they’ve bought into each other and myself.”

She plans to play similar as last year, but a lot faster to keep up with the MVC’s up tempo style.

“Last year I played six to seven kids for 30-plus minutes,” she said. “I’m trying to get them to buy into playing 10 to 11 kids for 20-25 minutes or 15-25 minutes. That requires a very selfless style of play.”

UNI

2022-23 record: 23-10 (16-4 MVC, 3rd in conference)

Head coach: Tanya Warren (17th season)

UNI players Grace Boffeli (left) and Maya McDermott pose with head coach Tanya Warren at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

Going into the season as the MVC Preseason favorite to win the conference, UNI head coach Tanya Warren realizes that the game is not played on paper, but rather on the court.

“It is an honor, but we also understand it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” she said. “When you look at everybody that we have returning and in terms of almost 90% of our scoring and three out of five starters back and two kids coming off the bench that played quite a few minutes, yes, it’s the right choice on paper. But we all know the game is not played on paper. But it is an honor and I’m happy for our program, and I’m happy for our young women.”

There are several factors that will go into coming out on top at the end of the season.

“A lot of things have to fall into place — scheduling, health — you have to play consistent, good basketball,” Warren told The Next. “In this league, anybody can beat anybody. So, you have to be able to be ready to play every single game and be able to weather some storms and hopefully on the road pull out a couple that maybe you’re not supposed to and then take care of business at home. But the league from top to bottom is very, very good. Anyone could have been picked first.”

Valparaiso

2022-23 record: 7-23 (5-15 MVC, 11th in conference)

Head coach: Mary Evans (6th season)

Valparaiso players Olivia Brown (left) and Leah Earnest pose with head coach Mary Evans at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

With six newcomers, significant playing minutes are up for grabs for Valparaiso head coach Mary Evans.

“I think all of them are doing a great job,” she said. “We recruited this class as one of the first classes of the kind of kids we want to bring in. They are all about 5’11 to 6′. They are all long, athletic and can shoot. It’s just kind of been fun to kind of watch.”

There are specific things they have been working on in preparation of the season.

“Taking care of the basketball — we had a real turnover issue the last two years. So, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of the ball,” Evans told The Next. “And then conversely, we’ve got to turn people over. We’ve always lost the rebounding battle; we have to make that up by turning people over and taking care of the ball.”

Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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