Like many college athletes across the country, Illinois State sophomore Lexy Koudelka had her heart broken in early March.
Illinois State was 19-10 and had won four straight heading into the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball tournament when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The NCAA cancelled the rest of the season before the tournament could get going.
“It was hard news hearing about it right before our tournament games,” Koudelka said. “We were feeling strong as a team and looking forward to postseason play.”
The season came to a tragic end due to unforeseen circumstances out of everyone’s control. But it leaves Koudelka with a big opportunity.
“Lexy has had the luxury of playing with two seniors that were first-team All-MVC players,” Illinois State head coach Kristen Gillespie said. “She is now expected to fill that void for our team.”
Koudelka is a 2018 Nevada graduate. She was named all state all four of her years playing for the Cubs, making the first team in her final two seasons.
Nevada made the state tournament in each of her first three years, winning the school’s only state championship when she was a freshman. She led Class 3A in both scoring (23.9 points per game) and rebounding (14.1) as a senior.
“She is the definition of a coachable athlete who always puts the team first,” said Dowling Catholic head coach Kristin Meyer, who coached Koudelka her first two years at Nevada. “Our team was bringing back a lot of talent the year Lexy entered high school and her height and ability to finish around the rim was exactly what our team needed to take the next step to become a top team in the state.”
At 6-2 Koudelka had the size, strength and athleticism to overpower her opponents on a nightly basis in high school. But it has been a different story at the Division 1 level of college ball.
“In high school I was usually the tallest player on the court,” Koudelka said. “In college I am practicing and playing against players that are consistently taller than I was. I had to adjust and learn how to play against women bigger and taller than me.”
In her freshman season Koudelka played in 31 games and made 10 starts, averaging 4.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Last year she put up 4.6 points and 2.5 rebounds playing in all 29 games.
“The jump from high school basketball to Division 1 is a big adjustment, even for highly talented players,” Meyer said. “I think last year was a big learning year for Lexy as she adapted to the more physical and faster paced play in college. As a sophomore, Lexy looked more comfortable in her role and going against the high level competition.”
Koudelka is ready to take her game to the next level.
“The main thing I would like to improve for my future is being a bigger offensive threat, Koudelka said. “I always work to do the little things like rebounding but also need to contribute offensively.”
Gillespie said she has already seen a lot of maturation in Koudelka’s approach to the game.
“I think Lexy has grown in her ability to defend players that are just as tall and strong as her,” Gillespie said. “I think the physicality and speed of the college game is a big adjustment and one that Lexy is very comfortable with now. I also think she has grown in her leadership. This past season she was willing to speak up and hold her teammate accountable.”
The Redbird coach sees Koudelka as capable of giving her team another elite post presence following in the footsteps of Simone Goods and Lexi Wallen.
“She will be the player that anchors us in the post on both ends of the floor,” Gillespie said. “She has all the tools to be an all-MVC caliber player.”
Koudelka is up to the challenge.
“Playing with and against - in practice - these high-caliber players the last two years has helped me grow and prepared me to step up and fill that role in the upcoming season,” Koudelka said.
But for now she’s just concentrating on getting through the COVID-19 crisis and hoping it gets resolved before the 2020-2021 basketball season gets underway.
“I am adjusting to being home and finishing school online,” Koudelka said. “I keep in touch with my teammates, doing what we can to workout and keep our basketball skills fresh. We just have to remember that everyone is in the same position and do what we can to make the most of it.”