【rikvip】How Teri Moren built Indiana into a women's college basketball powerhouse
2023-05-28 21:30:59


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Teri Moren was like so many Indiana kids. She went to church on Sundays, to grandma's house for lunch, then watched the Bobby Knight Show and Hoosier men's basketball games.

While Knight's teams won two NCAA titles in the 1980s, the Indiana women went to one NCAA tournament that decade, in 1983. They were barely an afterthought on their own campus, and Knight famously didn't want to share the same arena with them.

As one of the top high school players in the state in 1987, Moren didn't even consider attending Indiana.

"At the time, there just wasn't really a good vibe," she said. "IU women's basketball had very, very little relevancy."

Moren, who grew up in Seymour, Indiana, 45 minutes southeast of the Hoosiers' Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, instead played at Purdue.

"I don't know that I ever thought I'd be at Indiana," Moren said. "But I always thought if they could find the right person to be here, it was sort of the best-kept secret. Because I know Indiana and Indiana fans. If you put a product on the floor that is good basketball, the fans will show up."

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On Sunday, 17,222 fans -- the first sellout in Indiana women's basketball history -- stuffed the basketball cathedral as the Hoosiers beat Purdue to clinch their first Big Ten regular-season title since 1983. It was 40 years in the making and the culmination of Moren's nine years as the Hoosiers' head coach.

The historic win came on senior day, and the crowd showered fifth-year senior Grace Berger -- who had feared her college career might be over when she was injured in November -- with love. Junior Sydney Parrish, back in her home state after two seasons at Oregon, basked in the celebration, and joined Berger by recording a double-double. And Moren hugged her 88-year-old father, Dick Moren, who sits in the same spot and wears the same "lucky clothes" to every game, as he wiped away proud, happy tears.

Indiana won the WNIT title in 2018, reached its first Elite Eight in 2021 and is now projected as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. All the pieces are coming together for the Hoosiers (26-1), who have their highest Associated Press poll ranking at No. 2 and are riding a 14-game winning streak. They wrap up the regular season Sunday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) before another sellout crowd at Iowa with ESPN's "College GameDay" crew on hand. Then, the Hoosiers head to the Big Ten tournament as the top seed.

Moren is a big fan of fellow Seymour native John Mellencamp and walks out to one of his songs each year for the preseason Hoosier Hysteria event. She said his music reminds Indiana natives that they may go anywhere in the world, but ...

"You can find your way back," Moren said. "There's something about being able to do what we've done here with the support of the people that have watched you grow up."

Grace Berger, left, is a self-described introvert whose teammates call her "the most stoic human." But Mackenzie Holmes, right, said Berger -- who missed eight games with a knee injury -- is "a beast" come game time. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

MACKENZIE HOLMES NEVERbelieved she'd leave New England for college. Growing up in Maine, she was a fan of Boston sports teams and seafood, was very close to her parents, both of whom are basketball coaches, and older brother Cam.

But Holmes, a senior who leads Indiana at 22.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, was at a tournament in Chicago one summer -- "There were, like, 85 courts, and she was on No. 80," Moren recalled -- when Mercer assistant coach Ben Wierzba spotted her. He told his brother, Indiana assistant Rhet Wierzba, to watch her play. It wasn't long before Rhet recommended her to Moren.

"The minute she ran the floor and beat everybody down, I was hooked," Moren said. "Her team's energy was unbelievable, and I'm a big energy person. But we didn't know if we could get her out of the state of Maine."

But Holmes' father was a fan of the Celtics and Larry Bird and told Mackenzie she should at least visit Indiana. That's all it took. She and Cam both came to Indiana -- he was a practice team player and is now a graduate assistant with Illinois State -- and she has fully embraced Hoosierland (except for eating seafood in the Midwest).

Asked what's great about playing for Moren, Holmes said, "Can I swear?"

"She's a badass," said Holmes, who plans to use the COVID-19 waiver and return for her fifth year next season. "You can see her passion, her competitiveness, her energy, every single game and it doesn't change. It's infectious.

"What's cool is just the vision that Coach and the staff had. They were like, 'We're going to make this happen and we want you to be a part of it.' They had the recipe for success and the culture that they wanted to build, and they kept having players come in that are buying into that."

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Berger bought in, too. Highly recruited, her dream growing up was to play for Louisville. She lived in Indiana until she was about 6, then moved with her family to Louisville, Kentucky, where as a kid she watched players like Angel McCoughtry lead the Cardinals to the 2009 Final Four.

"We always had season tickets; my dad took me," Berger said of Cardinal games. "Really, it was good for me to see those players, to grow up on that and help me push myself because I wanted to be like them."

But she also kept an open mind in recruiting. Indiana offered the chance to go somewhere and change a program, and it clicked for Berger.

Her teammates and Moren refer to Berger as "the most stoic human." A self-described introvert with a quiet voice, Berger cherishes basketball but also alone time hanging out with her chihuahua mix, Walnut.

"But then once it comes game time," Holmes said of Berger, "she's a beast."

Parrish has a different story than Holmes or Berger; she grew up in Indiana and her grandparents live about 15 minutes from Indiana's campus. But she chose to play for Oregon her first two seasons. Then the draw to come home was too strong.

"I loved everything about Oregon," Parrish said. "But coming back, putting on those candy-striped warm-up pants and the Indiana jersey ... it was like, 'OK, this is where I belong.'

"Coach has this saying, 'Be where your feet are.' You know, be present. This is where I am, and it's been amazing."

Teri Moren, who's on the shortlist for national coach of the year, and Indiana haven't lost since Dec. 29, winning 14 consecutive games. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

MOREN WAS WAITINGto board a flight to Costa Rica for a series of exhibition games with her Indiana State team. It was August 2014 and she was gearing up for her fifth season as head coach with the Sycamores when the offer came from Indiana. The timing was brutal.

"It was a bittersweet moment," Moren recalled. "We're in the airport, and here I am getting my team together to tell them, 'I'm not going with you.'

"We had just won a conference championship, we had everybody returning, there was excitement. But I tried to explain it to them that just like they had their goals and dreams as players, coaches have those same things when they enter this profession. I was sad because I know it was disappointing to them, but I was excited to get back to the Big Ten."

At Purdue, Moren was mentored by two future Hall of Famers in Boilermakers head coach Lin Dunn, now the Indiana Fever's general manager, and assistant Gail Goestenkors, who went on to coach Duke to four Final Four appearances. She coached an AAU team that had future Purdue superstar Stephanie White, now the Connecticut Sun coach, and that helped lead to an assistant's job with the Butler. Then, Moren was an assistant for Northwestern, head coach at Division II University of Indianapolis (2000 to 2007), an assistant at Georgia Tech, then head coach at Indiana State starting in 2010.

"(My mother) said, 'If you are going to be a coach, be like Coach Summitt.' You know, tough and hard-nosed but classy."Teri Moren, who said her mom wanted her to emulate Pat Summitt's coaching style

While on a recruiting trip in the summer of 2014, she was stunned to hear Curt Miller -- who's now guiding the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks -- had resigned due to health and personal reasons after just two seasons at Indiana. Moren applied for the job. She didn't tell her family, not wanting to get their hopes up.

When she first walked into Assembly Hall for practice after taking over the team, the 10th coach in program history with so many hopes, Moren freeze-framed the moment in her mind.

"I thought, 'I can't believe I'm in this place, and I'm the head coach at Indiana. This has really happened,'" she said.

But a couple months after she took the Indiana job, Moren's mom, Barbara, died from ALS. Hoosier women's basketball became her siblings and father's sanctuary.

"There were very few women's games televised when I was younger, but I do remember watching Tennessee play on TV when Pat Summitt was there," Moren said. "My mother so desperately wanted me to coach like her. She said, 'If you are going to be a coach, be like Coach Summitt.' You know, tough and hard-nosed but classy."

Indiana beat Purdue on Feb. 19 to clinch at least a share of their first Big Ten title since 1983. Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire

In 2016, Indiana made just its fifth NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2002. Behind standouts such as Tyra Buss, Indiana won the 2018 WNIT before 13,000 fans, previously the biggest crowd for a women's game at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers have been in the NCAA tournament ever since, knocking off No. 1 seed NC State to reach the 2021 Elite Eight and advancing to the Sweet 16 last season.

Expectations were high for this season with Parrish and Sara Scalia transferring to Indiana, incoming freshman Yarden Garzon arriving and the returning experience of Berger, Holmes and Chloe Moore-McNeil.

Things took a bad turn at the controversial Las Vegas Invitational just a few weeks into the season. Berger suffered a knee injury Nov. 25 at the start of a win against Auburn. She didn't have an MRI until the team returned to Bloomington, and for a couple of days in Las Vegas, she was afraid she had played her last game for the Hoosiers.

"I've never had a knee injury before, so I just kind of assumed the worst," Berger said. "So I was trying to come to terms with that."

The news of a deep bone bruise and a sprained ligament, not a torn ACL, meant she would be out a while, but not the whole season. She rehabbed with the same intensity that she plays with and returned Jan. 8. In 19 games overall, Berger is averaging 12.2 points, 5.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds. The Hoosiers held down the fort without her, but getting Berger back made everyone's spirits soar.

"When you think your career at Indiana is over after all I've been through here and as good a team as we have ... I thought, 'That's all over for me,'" Berger said. "I think it just changed my perspective to where I'm just grateful every time I can do anything on the court."

Her grandfather, Bob Smith, had been able to watch on television as Berger played her first game after the injury. He died four days later, on Jan. 12, and that night, Berger had 11 points and eight assists as Indiana beat Maryland. He was buried in an IU basketball casket wearing a Grace Berger sweatshirt.

"My grandfather was able to see me play one more game," Berger said, "which is something I'm super grateful for."

Last Sunday could have been the ending of a Disney movie: the full house in an arena where Indiana women's players at one point didn't even feel welcome, a victory over a state rival to win a championship for the first time in 40 years.

But the movie is ongoing. There are more goals to achieve and more championships they hope to claim.

And whatever happens in March and April, Indiana women's basketball was on top of the world after defeating Purdue on Feb. 19, 2023. Right where their feet deserved to be.