One player’s motivation has led the SIU women’s basketball team to practice against male students in hopes of a better season.
In an effort to point the women’s basketball program in the right direction, junior guard Teri Oliver asked coach Missy Tiber if they could switch up their practice by competing against men rather than each other. Oliver said the idea was modeled from successful programs from other universities such as Tennessee, UCONN and Indiana State.
“I asked coach during the summertime if it was OK to practice against boys, and she said it was fine,” Oliver said. “I knew other schools across the country practice against boys too.”
The team began to practice against a group of male SIUC students who were referred to Tiber by team members. The students who now practice with the team are called the grey squad.
Oliver said competing against tougher, stronger competition has helped elevate their skills and aggression on the court.
“Any time you have boys against females you’re going to have people that are bigger than you, stronger than you and quicker than you,” Oliver said. “You honestly have to really watch what you do because it’s not at all like playing against girls.”
The Salukis entered conference season 3-4, recording more wins than the previous 2010-11 season when they finished 2-18 overall. But the team took a detour into a nine-game losing streak during winter break, when the grey squad was not available to practice.
Cartaesha Macklin, starting freshman point guard, said not having the grey squad around during winter break is a main reason why the team has not been able to perform at its highest potential. She said the men bring a different energy to practice that motivates the team to compete harder.
“I think the guys not being around is a huge deal,” Macklin said. “Each day at practice, we already know how each other plays, and we know each other’s competitiveness along with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, too.”
Macklin said everything the men did in practice was unpredictable, which made the team better.
“When you compete against them (in practice) you have no choice but to step up or step down,” she said.
Macklin said the way the men push them in practice shows the team is capable of playing aggressively against its opponents. She said the new practice has improved her game and aggressiveness, she said it has also taught her how to deal with pressure at the point guard position.
“The guys pressure you, play good defense with their long arms and do things that women can’t do so intensive,” Macklin said. “It gives me, personally, something to look up to and shows me how to handle the offense and defense. It gives you a better understanding of what people are capable of doing and helps when going out to play against women.”
Quan Fields, a junior studying business management and member of the grey squad, said it’s important to challenge the girls on the court and make them compete on a different level.
“We have to treat the girls as if we are playing guys,” Fields said. “The girls ask us not to take it easy on them, and that shows me how important winning is to them.”
Some players said it’s important to keep a positive mindset and use the grey squad as a way to focus on getting better during the rest of the season.
Cici Shannon, junior center and leading shot blocker, said she has seen the progress despite the losing streak.
“Each game we have displayed improvement,” Shannon said. “Even though we have suffered a lot of losses, they have been close losses and we have gotten better from each one.”
Shannon said she believes things will soon get better because the grey squad has returned from break.
“We plan on improving and getting over this hump, and eventually, we will start winning again,” Shannon said.