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Saturday, March 2
The Indiana Daily Student

sports

Personality wins over coach, team

Cassady impresses coach, teammates with mentality

Women's basketball coach Kathi Bennett saw point guard Heather Cassady as a not-so-confident sophomore in a tournament in Bloomington two years ago. \nBennett, then the coach at the University of Evansville, had recruited the Peoria, Ill., product, noticing her shooting skill and speed. But the personal side remained to be seen.\n"I knew what kind of player she was," Bennett said. "I didn't know what kind of person she was until I got here."\nCassady turned out to be the kind of person who croons Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync songs on a quiet team bus, center Jill Chapman said. Cassady's also the type of person who hates to lose. This evident by tears streaking down her cheeks after the Hoosiers squandered an eight-point lead to Michigan in a 68-55 loss. She's the kind of person who takes freshmen under her wing so they feel comfortable at a Big Ten school. \nMental toughness, unfailing desire to win and a tiny physique that can withstand nearly 40 minutes a game has allowed the 5-foot-7 Cassady to develop into what Bennett said is one of the Big Ten's best guards. \nCassady's offensive production has declined over the past two years, from 15.3 points as a sophomore to 12.2 points this year. But that drop comes from being held responsible for the Hoosiers' ball-handling after original point guard, Kristen Bodine, tore her ACL. Instead of points, Cassady turns in valuable minutes and leadership. \n"She's as important as it gets," Bennett said. "We rely on her for so many things. Not only for things on the court, but players look to her when things are going good, things are going bad."\nCassady and Bennett's player-coach bond proves sturdy and close. Bennett gives Cassady inspirational poems and attends Bloomington High School South girls games with her.\nCassady said she regards Bennett as a hero and lists the coach's hiring in March 2000 as one of her top basketball memories. \nTheir relationship has grown strong in less than two years, and Cassady said she and Bennett united almost immediately.\n"It's interesting because right away I think we connected," Cassady said. "Just me being in the program for two years, she could tell that I and this team had big hearts and we wanted to do well here. We made eye contact, and we just knew this was the spot for her."\nMuch of the charm that has appealed to Bennett has connected Cassady to many of her teammates. The star players and senior captains, Chapman said she and Cassady have developed a friendship that will extend beyond graduation. \nDuring their freshman year, Cassady would stay with Chapman whenever Cassady got locked out of her room. During Thanksgiving break, Chapman said they "trashed" the dorm, crumbling crackers and littering the hallway. They felt bad about it the next day and cleaned the mess.\nChapman said she'd like Cassady to attend her wedding as a bridesmaid.\n"If something went wrong or something didn't go our way, Heather and I would look toward each other," Chapman said. "I know when we go to the Big Ten tournament and are fighting for the championship, I know Heather and I will grab each other."\nLast year, Cassady and the Hoosiers reached the quarter finals of that tournament before falling to eventual-champion Iowa. Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder is another admirer of Cassady. \n"She had exceptional ball-handling skills," said Bluder, the former Drake coach who recruited Cassady, an Illinois Miss Basketball runner-up. "Her passing skills were great. She's a shooting point guard. It's always nice to have that asset of the point guard being able to score. I liked her composure and liked her leadership out on the floor."\nCassady said she maintains her liveliness by limiting practice between games, lifting an hour twice a week during the season and eating healthy. She also looks forward to the challenge of fatigue.\n"I love when it's mental, when you're so tired and your legs can't move anymore," said Cassady, who averages 38 minutes per game. "That's when you get to the point when they get numb and it's all mental. You push through it, and you know you push through it."\nCassady said her ideal future includes playing professionally in the United States or Australia or working in strength conditioning. But right now, her focus rests with the Hoosiers' (11-13, 5-8 Big Ten) last three regular-season games and the Big Ten tournament.\n"I think we can still go out with a bang," Cassady said. "We just need to get on a roll. This team is good enough; that's what kills me. We're good enough, obviously to beat Wisconsin, and we've lost to teams we shouldn't have lost to.\n"If we keep working hard at practices and having fun, that's what's important"

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