Oct. 28, 2003
By Jeff Honza
ST. LOUIS, Mo.-- Southern Illinois University's women's basketball team will look to prove critics wrong again, as it was picked to finish last in this year's Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Poll, announced today at the league's annual media day.
This year marks the third straight that SIU has been picked 10th in the Valley's preseason balloting. The Salukis received just 52 points, while the other nine conference schools had at least 105. League coaches, sports information directors and media voted.
A year after winning the 2003 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Women's Basketball Tournament, Southwest Missouri State opens this season with the same starting lineup. Most likely, that experience factored into the Lady Bears' selection as the No. 1 team in the poll. SMS accrued 379 points and 27 of 40 first-place votes.
Twelve of the remaining first-place tallies went to defending regular-season champion, Creighton (365). Indiana State (301) also got a nod for first-place.
Northern Iowa (4th, 277) and Wichita State (5th, 230) filled out the top-five, while Drake (6th, 212), Bradley (7th, 147), Evansville (8th, 129), Illinois State (9th, 105) and SIU closed out the voting.
Despite its preseason ranking, SIU made some changes in the off-season which head coach Lori Opp feels good about.
"We have three new coaches and eight new players," said Opp. "This is the first time I have assistants with solid Division I experience. I am excited about this year and am confident the changes we made can make a difference."
Opp also touched on her team's health. Staying healthy this season will be key for the Salukis who have been plagued by injuries in recent years.
"Day to day, most of our kids can go all out," explained Opp. "However, we do have two players sidelined. For some reason, we always seem to get the unusual injuries -- a scratched cornea, a stress fracture of the femur. Other than that, the kids are working hard and we're fairly healthy right now."
SIU opens its 2003-04 season at Southeast Missouri State on Friday, Nov. 21. Tip off is set for 6 p.m., at the Show Me Center.