Blue Raiders Going Dancing

When Rick Insell arrived as the head coach of the Lady Raiders prior to the 2005 season, he inherited a team who had won 24 games in both of the previous seasons. While the team as a whole was successful, Insell has been instrumental in building what he considers to be a program.

"You can't move a program to the next level with 200 people in the stands," Insell said during an interview with BRZ. "When I took the job, one of the things we talked about in our interview was that we had a successful program but nobody in the community knew about it. What we've done is allow our community to have ownership of this program. I think our fans feel that way. They feel like these kids are theirs and they love coming to watch them play."

Insell has certainly given the fans a product worth watching. His current record as head coach stands at 125 wins to just 38 losses headed into this weekend's NCAA Tournament opener. This will be the fourth appearance in the tournament for the women's team since he took over.

With four straight 20-win seasons headed into the year, Insell had built an expectation of excellence. After eight games, however, many Blue Raider faithful were understandably concerned when the squad's record stood at a disappointing 4-4.

"I don't think a lot of people panicked, but they were really wondering what was going on early when we lost some of those games," Insell says. "For our young ladies to do what they did after that is big. Especially in our conference with the coaches, athletes and teams we see week in and week out."

Despite the early obstacles, the Blue Raiders have put together an impressive 16-game win streak that includes a trio of wins to become the Sun Belt Tournament Champions. To keep the streak alive, Middle Tennessee needed an extra five minutes when they found themselves tied with UALR at the end of regulation in the championship game.

"When they came to the huddle, AC [Alysha Clark] was real upset because she'd missed two shots and Jackie [Pickel] was upset because she missed a three that would've put it away," says Insell of his team's mindset in the moments following the end of regulation play. "I told them to get rid of it. Flush it, because we can't do anything about it. We just don't need to carry it over."

The successful championship run through the conference tournament is extremely encouraging to fans headed into the first set of NCAA match-ups, but for Coach Insell, there's always something that could be improved on.

"The will to compete was a big thing. I didn't think we played great against WKU or Little Rock, but we competed. We didn't quit," says Insell. "I wasn't happy with our execution in the final. We need to take better care of the basketball. I think we had 18 turnovers and we can't win in the NCAA Tournament with that. We need to cut it down to the 12 or 14 range. Obviously I'd like to keep it at 12 if possible."

While examining the performance and necessary action items of his own team, Insell has also been scouting opponent Miss. State since the match-up was announced Monday night. It will be the first meeting between the two squads since 1990, so there isn't going to be much familiarity.

"If you're looking at the physicality, we don't match up," Insell bluntly says. "They're bigger, they're taller, they're stronger and they're quicker. If you're looking at overall basketball I think we match up well, though. My team has tremendous basketball IQ. That doesn't mean they don't, but that's what we've got. We don't have quickness or vertical, but we do make that extra pass. We know how to make threes and do the little things that help you win ball games."

As the basketball season begins to wind down, March Madness will quickly heat up. For many in the Murfreesboro area, that will include anxiously awaiting Sunday's 1:30 tip off. Whatever the outcome of that game may be, the Middle Tennessee faithful know that they have a team and a coach that they can be proud of.

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