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Old 01-16-2004, 10:59 AM   #1
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Native Woman is taking charge for ISU women

Friday, January 16, 2004

Taking charge for ISU women

McCormack keys turnaround

By Douglas Hamm
dhamm@pantagraph.com

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NORMAL -- The clock was ticking in overtime, and the Illinois State women's basketball team needed a basket to avoid a damaging home loss against archrival Bradley.
To the surprise of none of her teammates, junior guard Jaci McCormack took charge. She drove to the basket and banked in a shot over two Bradley defenders to secure a 79-78 win for the Redbirds.

"When the going gets tough, Jaci gets going," said ISU senior point guard Taren O'Brien. "Anytime there's pressure in the game she's going to rise to the occasion. She wants the ball at the end of the game, and she wants to make that winning shot."

The 5-foot-10 McCormack has emerged as an all-around force this season and has helped spearhead ISU's dramatic turnaround. Coming off consecutive seven-win campaigns, the Redbirds will take an 8-5 record into tonight's 7:05 Missouri Valley Conference game against Evansville (6-6) at Redbird Arena.

McCormack, who led ISU in scoring last season (9.0 ppg) despite starting only one game, ranks second on the team this year with a 10.7 average behind Valley leader Katie Donovan (20.5).

She has made dramatic improvement in other statistical areas.

McCormack ranks first on the team in steals (36), second in 3-pointers made (22) and third in rebounds (5.4 rpg) and assists (40). Her game-winning shot against Bradley Jan. 4 helped earn her the Valley's Player of the Week honor, and she is averaging 14.0 points in league games.

"Every player strives to be an all-around player," the Lapwai, Idaho, native said. "I want to be the best teammate I can be for us to be successful. In the past I've always been more of an offensive player. This year I have more confidence in my defense, and I think that has driven my offense more."

McCormack has played nearly every position this season, giving first-year ISU coach Robin Pingeton some flexibility in her rotation. She was on the court all 45 minutes against Bradley, compiling 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals.

"She's the whole package," Pingeton said. "She's getting things done at both ends for us. She's an off guard, and on several nights she has had seven-plus rebounds. Defensively, she has some of the quickest hands I've seen on the Division I level. The girl is always in a stance defensively.

"She's a phenomenal passer, and she's also looking to score. She does such a good job of creating off the dribble, and she has a great understanding of the court. She's just very, very fundamentally sound. She's giving us everything she's got."

McCormack, a Native American and member of the Nez Perce Tribe, grew up in what she termed a "basketball-crazy" Idaho community.

"Basketball was a family tradition, and it just went down from generation to generation," McCormack said. "I played a lot of different positions in grade school and especially high school. I had to play the point, the wing, forward. It gave me the experience to carry it over here."

While she sports a striking tattoo depicting a sun-emblazoned basketball on the back of her right calf, McCormack is unassuming and prefers to be a quiet leader.

"I lead more by example," McCormack said. "I'm not a loud person on the court, but if I see something going on that needs to be improved I'll just give suggestions to a teammate or tell them to look out for something."

O'Brien said there's no question McCormack is one of the team leaders.

"Jaci is a player the whole team respects and can learn a lot from," O'Brien said. "On the court she wants to get the job done and is really focused. She's a totally different person off the court. She's goofy and fun to be around, and she cares a lot about people."

McCormack is all business when discussing the Redbirds' immediate and ultimate goals this season.

"We just want to get better every practice and every game," she said. "We definitely want to win the Missouri Valley, and we definitely feel we can do that."
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