Boeglin leads Indiana State to new heights

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- If you ask her mom, Melanie Boeglin tends to be "quiet and keep to herself."

So when recruiting letters from more than 50 universities arrived at their Terre Haute, Ind., home four years ago, Boeglin's parents, David and Joyce, had no idea where their daughter wanted to go.

But for Boeglin, who had attended Indiana State games since she was 10 years old and spent many a summer at the Sycamores' camps, college basketball meant more backyard than big city.

"We continued to push her to make official visits to other programs," David Boeglin said. "We just kept pushing that issue. I said, 'We've got to go see some of these universities that you might be interested in.'

"She finally broke down and said, 'I don't want to go anywhere other than Indiana State University.' "

So, after helping Terre Haute South Vigo win its first high school basketball state championship her senior year, Boeglin immediately transformed Indiana State from an eighth-place team in the Missouri Valley Conference into a team that won a share of its first regular-season league title. The 5-foot-6 point guard burst onto the conference scene, leading the league in assists and steals and finishing fourth in the NCAA with 3.8 steals per game.

That freshman season gave Boeglin (pronounced Bay-glin) a glimpse of her potential, and the season also made her the face of a program on the rise. Now that Boeglin's a senior, her face covers two billboards in Terre Haute and Hulman Center is averaging more than 3,000 fans per home game.

"That was an eye-opening experience, a great opportunity," said Boeglin, whose mom was a cheerleader at Indiana State. "Just being able to take the team to another level. A lot of people were saying I was carrying the team. I didn't expect that. I expected to be a point guard and play my role. I didn't anticipate having this kind of impact."

Former ISU coach Cheryl Reeve might have anticipated it, though. Before departing during the 2000-01 season, Reeve -- who's now an assistant with the WNBA's Detroit Shock -- was the one who initially recruited Boeglin after seeing her play at the Sycamores' summer camps. Now, Boeglin and head coach Jim Wiedie, who was an assistant when Reeve left, have enjoyed four straight winning seasons. This season, Boeglin has led the Sycamores to a 21-3 record. She ranks third in the nation in assists (6.9), 10th in steals (3.4) and 26th in scoring (18.7 points).

Last season, Boeglin proved she could score when her team needed it most, nearly pulling ISU back from a big second-half deficit against Illinois State in the conference championship game. Boeglin scored 16 of the Sycamores' last 22 points and finished with 30 in a 72-70 loss in which the Redbirds' Jaci McCormack ended ISU's NCAA Tournament dreams with a jumper at the buzzer.

"What [Boeglin] did in that game was heroic," said Jill Hutchison, the longest-tenured coach in MVC history -- at Illinois State -- who's now an analyst for Fox Sports Midwest. "She practically kept them in the game by herself. You could just see the desire and the passion she had for it.

"If you don't risk a lot, you don't hurt a lot. She put everything on the line. It hurt so darn much."

This season, Boeglin again stepped up to the plate when it was needed, scoring a school-record 46 points in a 92-87 double-overtime win at Drake on Jan. 26. The performance tied her with Iowa's Crystal Smith for the Division I single-game high this season and marked the best performance in the MVC since Jackie Stiles scored 47 (also against Drake) in March 2001. Boeglin also has the nation-high tally for assists in a game this season with 19 at Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 20, and she's 23 from passing Missouri State's Tina Robbins for the MVC career record.

Still, Boeglin is quick to compliment her ISU teammates, particularly Lisa Verhoff, who is the program's all-time leader in 3-point percentage and hit seven shots from beyond the arc at Eastern Kentucky.

"Our shooters were hitting that game," Boeglin said. "Getting assists is all about players finishing. Especially with our offense when people help on me."

Although only a 29.3 percent 3-point shooter, Boeglin becomes impossible to stop when she's knocking down the trey. In the Drake game, she hit 4 of 5 3-point attempts and went 19-for-30 from the field as well as snagging six steals.

"Every team, they kind of give me a step, I still try and get to the basket," Boeglin said. "When I start hitting [3-pointers], I don't even hesitate. Usually, I can get on a pretty good roll. That's what happened at Drake and the second half at Illinois State."

Boeglin's referring to the school-record 28 second-half points she dropped on the Redbirds on Feb. 4. In that 75-71 win, Boeglin managed just one point in the first half, no doubt a result of opponents using different defenses to try to contain her and ISU's offense, which ranks ninth in the country with 77.9 points per game. But Boeglin usually finds a way to get the Sycamores a good shot or get herself to the free-throw line (she went 12-for-14 against Illinois State), where she is the program's all-time leader in free throws made with 528.

"She does a great job of recognizing who to get the ball to and when to get it to them or when she needs to step up and be more of a scorer," Wiedie said.

Boeglin attacks the basket with reckless abandon.

"Size doesn't intimidate me," she said. "I'm willing to drive in there. I get my shot blocked on a regular basis. The next time, I just learn how to get it up and over them. I like going in there with the big girls."

Playing more physically, of course, meant more time in the weight room.

"I use my strength to get in there but also to finish and to get back up," Boeglin said. "And I've worked hard so I don't fatigue at the end of the season."

Although the run was snapped recently, Boeglin and the Sycamores had won 18 straight games, an Indiana State streak second only to the 1979 Larry Bird men's team that won 33 games to start the season. With a solid profile and strong RPI, the Sycamores hope to ride that momentum into their first NCAA Tournament bid. And even if ISU fails to win the MVC's automatic bid, the Sycamores can make a case for an at-large berth, especially since their only losses are to Connecticut, Kentucky and Missouri State.

The Sycamores don't want to take any chances, though, when they travel to Missouri State's Hammons Student Center for the conference tournament in March. They can count on a hostile environment in Springfield, Mo., where the Sycamores haven't beaten the Lady Bears at Hammons since the 1988-89 season. And after ISU delivered a 58-34 home pounding to Missouri State last month, the Lady Bears gave the Sycamores a wake-up call this past Friday in the form of a 76-46 rout. The margin of defeat was shocking to MVC teams, especially as the ISU was looking to improve to a record 13-0 start in the conference.

Boeglin played just 12 minutes, committing four early turnovers and picking up two first-half fouls.

"It's just a tough place to play," said Boeglin, who also got into early foul trouble against UConn but still finished with 13 points, three assists and three steals Nov. 14 when the Sycamores played in Storrs, Conn. "They just play so well at home. They really feed off their crowd. They've always been a tough team."

Constantly pushing his most talented player, Wiedie strives to get a more consistent effort from his point guard.

"It starts with our captains, and it starts with our point guard. I hope it stings. I hope it hurts," Wiedie said after Friday's loss.

Wiedie and Boeglin have not always seen eye to eye, but Boeglin said she has learned a lot.

"Coach and I didn't have the greatest relationship my freshman year," Boeglin said. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything. Our relationship has definitely developed over the years. He has taught me so much about going out and playing hard and his passion for the game. You just have to feed off that. He gets you fired up."

The Missouri Valley's all-time leader in steals -- and seven away from cracking the NCAA's all-time top 10 -- Boeglin rebounded to help ISU to an 88-85 win Sunday at Wichita State. She had 23 points, seven assists and three steals.

Through the ups and downs of her career, the marketing major (3.9 grade-point average) has matured on and off the court.

"Off the court, I'm a goof. I'm a kid at heart, and I probably always will be," Boeglin said. "[During my freshman year,] I had a lot of problems listening to what people would tell me. I had to learn to block that out and just understand what the coaches were telling me."

With just four games left before the conference tournament, the Sycamores will need Boeglin's maturity more than ever. A third appearance in the WNIT no doubt would disappoint.

"I think if we get to the NCAA Tournament, we can definitely surprise some people," Boeglin said.

Craig Pearson covers the Indiana State women's basketball team for the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.