The Wolfpacker

November 2015 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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94 ■ THE WOLFPACKER 2015-16 WOLFPACK BASKETBALL PREVIEW Eli admits she went into the season with the wrong mental attitude. "I know the four player in his system is still on the perimeter," she said, "but I was really discouraged defensively — I was thinking, 'I'm shorter, the people I'm up against have 30-some pounds on me — this position isn't for me.' Instead of embracing the position, I was hesitant. I was a real Debbie Downer, and I'm not very proud of it." With Markeisha Gatling and Kody Burke starting, and then-freshman Jenn Mathurin getting most of the backup min- utes at the four position, Eli was relegated to only 18 appearances for the year, averaging just 8.4 minutes in those games, while to- taling 15 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. "When you have a coaching change, some people get caught in the middle because they were recruited for one system," Moore pointed out. "And now they get pigeonholed into a different sys- tem. I think she got caught up in that a little." That all changed last season. With the departure of six seniors from the 25-win team in 2013-14 — including Gatling and Kody Burke, both WNBA draftees — and a new attitude, Eli found her- self tabbed as the "steadier" in a lineup that went through changes throughout the season. "I realized this is the way it is," Eli said. "I can either sulk or try to figure out what works for me. Instead of thinking about all my disad- vantages, I was thinking, 'Maybe I can go around people, get in better position, dif- ferent things to help the team with my size and what I could do." "She's a solid player," Moore said. "She makes good decisions, and she's always in the right spot defensively. She was our best player as far as team defense, rotating, be- ing where you're supposed to be on slides — she was very good at that. "So when we had a younger player that wasn't making good decisions with the ball, or was causing breakdowns on de- fense, we knew we could put Eli in, and she would correct those things pretty quickly." While both Eli and Moore are hopeful there will be more opportunities for her to be "the fixer" this season, the seriousness of her injury has put that in doubt. Unlike an ACL tear, which can often be rehabilitated in several months, Eli was im- mobilized in a cast for two weeks, then had to use crutches and a scooter to get around for two months before she could even put her foot on the ground. "Then I had to learn to walk again," she noted. Moving Forward Two hours of rehab for five to six days a week has been Eli's routine since her injury. As of early October, she still had not been cleared to practice, and when she is, she will be well behind in conditioning. "There's potential for me to play this sea- son, and that honestly wasn't in my head a month ago," she said. In the meantime, Eli excelled off the court. Last year, she was the first-ever student-athlete to be voted the prestigious "Leader of the Pack" honor, awarded on football's homecoming weekend to the NC State student "who make outstanding contributions to NC State in areas of leader- ship, scholarship and community service." According the school's website, "Finalists for the honor are selected based on grade- point average, a personal interview, extra- curricular activities, written essays on their leadership and community service, and a vote from the student body." Now Eli is determined to carry out her role as a senior member of the team: leading in whatever way she can. "The injury has given me more oppor- tunity to talk one-on-one with people," she pointed out. "A lot of times, I'll stop at dif- ferent people after plays and try to give them an overview of what Coach Moore wants. I've been in his system for going on three years now, learning more and more, and once you understand it you don't have to focus on the technicality of it, you just act on instinct. "I try to help people understand what he wants, his philosophy, and I think I've been able to do that a little more than if I were on the court." Moore admits that he feels that, for the most part, a team's leaders are usually its best players, the ones who make the biggest contributions on the court. "It's tougher for someone who's not in- volved all the time because you're not al- ways necessarily in the trenches and having to go through every- thing that everybody else is," he explained. "I don't know how much playing time Eli is going to get this year, how well she's going to recover from the injury. It's a matter of being explosive enough offensively and being able to get down in a stance and guard some- one. There's going to probably be setbacks, but if anybody can handle that, I'm sure she can. "I do think your best players have to be your team leaders — but there's also a lot of respect that goes to a player that overcomes some talent issues with hard work, grit and hustle. I think Eli has the respect of the players and can be that kind of person." Whatever her contributions this coming season, on the court or off, the industrial engineering major already knows her path if and when she puts away the basketball for good. A 3.5 student who will grad- uate in May, she already has a job offer with a local health care company, is president of the Student Advisory Committee and has interned at Duke Hospital. The player everyone knows as "Eli" (a nickname she's been stuck with since sec- ond grade when she had four other class- mates named Ashley) said she's never been one to dwell on stats as a measure of success anyway. "I love NC State more than anything," she stated. "I want to try to make it bet- ter, so I just hope people understand that I did everything I could to help, whether that meant playing basketball, being Leader of the Pack, whatever. I think I've been a pretty good role player. "Some people make their mark on a pro- gram by scoring 1,000 points, and obviously that's not happening for me. I just try to find the little things that I can leave for my teammates and for the program, so I can know I contributed in more ways than just numbers." ■ Eli ruptured her Achilles tendon against Wake Forest last season, leav- ing her playing status this year in doubt. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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