By SAM LEEPER
UIC Flames Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Regina Miller, has been a winner at all levels – as a player, assistant coach and head coach. She knows from experience, if you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability. The 2013/2014 Flames bought into Miller’s philosophy and the results speak for themselves.
The team’s accomplishments this past season have built a strong foundation for UIC women’s basketball. In just her third year, Miller led the Flames to a program-record 26 wins, the first postseason championship in school history and the nation’s most dramatic turnaround. UIC collected 17 more wins (26-9) than the season before (9-21), which was the largest win differential among all 347 NCAA D-I women’s programs nationwide.
UIC capped off their memorable and the program’s best season by winning the 2014 Women’s Basketball Invitational post season tournament title.
“It certainly was a wonderful season,” said Miller. “There’s no formula for turning around a program. The biggest thing is getting your players to believe in you and for you to believe in them.” No one has responded to Miller’s positive message more than Ruvanna Campbell, who will be a junior in the fall. Campbell, who became the first UIC player to win Defensive Player of the Year in the Horizon League, finished her sophomore campaign by earning the MVP of the WBI Tournament. Campbell almost nailed a triple-double in the title game with 18 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks in the Flames’ nine-point win over Stephen F. Austin (TX).
“This season was much better than I expected,” said Campbell, one of only four players in the country who averaged at least 17 points, 12 rebounds and shot over 50 percent from the field. “Coach saw the potential in all of us and kept pushing us to be the best. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
After this season, Campbell has plenty of reasons to smile. Not only did UIC have an 11-game winning streak, tying a school record, the Flames broke several school records, including points scored and scoring average. Campbell also broke a Horizon League record with 449 rebounds.
Of course, it was the three members of the senior class, Rachel Story, Katie Hannemann and Emily Kobel that helped lead the way for UIC. Story had 27 points in the WBI final and finished her final season with 609 points, second most in school history. Hannemann added 14 points in the win over the Lumberjacks and finished in the top 15 in scoring in the UIC record book. Kobel started every game this season and leaves the program with 153 three pointers – 6th all-time for the Flames.
“We had great team chemistry,” said Miller. “The way I see it, we were one of three teams who ended the season with a win. Now, we just got to keep building, keep getting better.”
During the team’s early season 11-game winning streak, the Flames won a pair of games in Puerto Rico at Sport Tours International’s San Juan Shootout. UIC defeated Ohio and Texas Southern in the tournament.
“That trip really helped us bond as a team,” said Campbell. “We got to spend several days together and that was a great experience.”
For Coach Miller, the trip was successful for several reasons, especially from a basketball standpoint. “Tournaments like Puerto Rico give you a chance to play teams that normally you won’t see,” said Miller. “You can try different things and really push your team as you get ready for conference play. It’s also a chance to really spend quality time with your players, which always is a plus.”
The Flames finished fourth in the Horizon League, their highest finish in seven years and made it to the conference tournament semi-finals for the first time since 2009. So, after all the success in 2014, what’s next? “I’m such a competitive person, I want to get better and better,” said Miller. “That’s what I want to pass down to my players, to get a positive injection of always competing. No matter what I do – foot races, golf or on the court, I hate to lose. I want my team to always be hungry, never settling.”
Sounds like the UIC Flames will be motivated for even bigger and better things in the future.