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The Redbirds are dancing: The ISU women claim their first NCAA tournament bid since 2008

ISU women's basketball watch party
Eric Stock
Members of the ISU women's basketball team watch as they see the Redbirds selected for an opening game in the NCAA tournament at Iowa on Friday.

The Illinois State women’s basketball team clinched the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 14 years on Sunday with an improbable run to the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

With their invitation to the so-called "big dance" secured, Redbird players and coaches joined fans for a watch party at Redbird Arena on Sunday as they learned they will face No. 2 seeded Iowa on Friday at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Friday. ISU drew a no. 15 seed in the Greensboro (North Carolina) Region.

“I said this all along: This team had something special.”
ISU women's basketball coach Kristen Gillespie

Game time and ticket information have not been released. The 68-team tournament begins with opening round games on Wednesday.

ISU entered the MVC tournament at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline as the fourth-seeded team and had recently suffered through a four-game losing streak. The Redbirds clinched the title Sunday with a come-from-behind 50-48 win over Northern Iowa in the final.

Mark Muhlhauser, Kristen Gillespie and Kyle Brennan
Eric Stock
ISU deputy director of athletics Mark Muhlhauser and women's basketball coach Kristen Gillespie embrace as athletics director Kyle Brennan addresses the crowd at Redbird Arena on Sunday during an NCAA tournament watch party.

“We went to Moline with the great belief we were going to win this,” fifth year-ISU coach Kristen Gillespie said. “It may seem far-fetched to the bystanders because I know we stumbled down the stretch a little bit.

“I said this all along: This team had something special.”

Gillespie said the Redbirds never stopped believing in themselves and in each other when the team struggled late in the season.

“They have that intangible of love. They love each other so much. They are such a close-knit group. They believed in each other, they believed in our staff. Sometimes weird things happen to propel you.”

Senior guard Juliunn Redmond, who led ISU with 21 points in the MVC title game, scored the go-ahead basket on a layup with 1:56 remaining. Redmond looks forward to playing on the big stage and the challenge of facing national player of the year candidate Caitlin Clark.

“I like big moments, I love big games because that gives me the opportunity to showcase my talent on the big court,” Redmond said. “My eyes just lit up when I saw Iowa up there (on the video scoreboard) and our name. It’s just a big moment for all of us.”

The tournament assignment to Iowa City gives ISU junior Mary Crompton a chance to play one of the biggest games of her career in her hometown.

“Hopefully I’ll get some family and friends there,’ Crompton said. “I know we’ll have a good Redbird showing.”

Crompton was an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teammate of Clark for several years before coming to ISU and said she has played and practiced multiple times in the 15,500-seat arena.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at
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