Kelly Packard [1990 AU alumna] is riding a streak of incredible firsts.
In her first year as head coach of the Ball State University women’s basketball team, the Anderson University graduate led her team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance. Now, with the Cardinals’ stunning 71-55 win over Tennessee on Sunday, Packard becomes the first coach to knock the Volunteers out of the tournament in the first round.
“To go out and do what they just did, it’s going to take us a really long time to get our minds around the accomplishment that they have been able to achieve,” Packard told the Associated Press.
Ball State will play Iowa State at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in Bowling Green, Ky.
To put the accomplishment in perspective, Tennessee is the two-time defending champion and has advanced to the Sweet 16 every year since the tournament began in 1982. With 1,005 career coaching victories Tennessee coach Pat Summitt represents the kind of success to which Packard and Ball State aspire.
“I don’t think there’s another women’s coach that’s more recognized than Pat Summitt,” Packard told the Associated Press. “She’s very passionate about coaching and I respect that about her.”
Packard, who attended Tri-Valley High School near Dresden, Ohio, came to Anderson University in 1986 as Kelly Spaulding. She graduated in 1990 as the women’s basketball program’s career leader in points (1,275) and rebounds (723). Packard also ran track for the Ravens, worked as sports editor of the yearbook, the school newspaper and was selected 1989 homecoming queen. She was elected to the university’s hall of fame in 2002
She served five years as an assistant coach at Colorado State University under Tom Collen, now at Arkansas, and Greg Williams, now at Rice. Then Packard took over the Colorado Chill of the National Women’s Basketball League, where she went 34-12 en route to the 2005 and 2006 league championships. Most recently, Packard worked as executive director of a campaign to bring a WNBA expansion team to Colorado.
In May 2008, she became the 10th head women’s basketball coach at Ball State, succeeding Tracy Roller.
“Kelly has head coaching experience, Midwest ties and has been successful at both the collegiate and professional levels,” Ball State athletic director Tom Collins said. “She has learned from some very successful college coaches in Tom Collen and Greg Williams and has been a part of a nationally prominent program.”
University leadership clearly threw their support behind Packard.
“Kelly brings an impressive array of coaching experience from a NCAA Division I team to the NWBL,” said Ball State President Jo Ann Gora. “At the international level, she also coached the Brazilian Women’s Athletes in Action team. She’s been part of winning programs in each of these arenas including a run to the Sweet 16 while an assistant coach at Colorado State.”
Packard and her husband, Rich, an electrical engineer who graduated from Anderson University in 1988, returned to Central Indiana from Colorado with their two sons, Derek and Evan.
Ball State went 25-8 during the regular season, including a 14-1 record at home, and beat Bowling Green in the championship game of the Mid-American Conference tournament. The Cardinals received a No. 12 seed for the NCAA tournament, while Tennesse was a No. 5.
On Tuesday, Ball State took a 29-28 lead into halftime, then outscored Tennessee 42-27 the rest of the way. The Cardinals made seven of 19 3-point attempts, while Tennessee made just two of 18. Porchia Green led Ball State with 23 points and Audrey McDonald scored 18.
Packard told her team that it was OK to be in awe of Summitt and Tennessee, which has won eight national championships.
“I thought we were tentative, maybe uptight,” Summitt said. “But you have to give credit where credit is due and that’s to the Ball State basketball team. They had a lot more toughness. They beat us to loose balls. They made shots.”
Who knows, Sunday’s win could be the first step for Packard and Ball State into a larger world.
“The biggest thing is that we’ve got to go about doing what we’ve done all year,” she said. “Playing with passion, representing ourselves well, playing with character and playing for one another.”
“There’s some pride in seeing your university’s name recognized within your own state,” she said. “Now, it’s going to be recognized outside our state.”
—Justin Schneider is a reporter for the Herald Bulletin in Anderson. Photo by Ed Reinke. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.