battling expectations and disappointments. More frankly, how did she avoid giving in to the feeling that she hadn’t gotten a fair shot in her coaching tenure?
“On the outside, you look at a couple games here and there, and you’re thinking, ‘Man, we lost this one by this many points. What if we had this?’” Elderkin said in October. “I think I’m a really good basketball coach, but sometimes, when you’re not locked and loaded, it’s hard.
“So I think that’s where the excitement comes from this season of seeing a locked and loaded basketball team of seeing the depth, and if somebody does go down, I think we can sustain it. I think we’ve got enough bodies right now.”
That premonition turned out to be true. With two games left in the regular season, App State (15-12, 9-7 Sun Belt) is guaranteed a record of .500 or better for the first time since 2012-13. That was the last of four straight seasons featuring 20 wins or more.
And the weathering of injuries she alluded to has happened as well. Elderkin cites an early moment — when starter Pre Stanley missed a couple nonconference games and Tierra Wilson filled in from the bench — as one of a few examples where the Mountaineers weren’t phased by absences.
“I’m not so certain last season — if a body went down, we were really limited,” Elderkin said Tuesday in a phone interview. “But I think that experience with our team has kind of helped us this season, and I think that we do have depth and we do have balance on our team.”
More internally, the season proves Elderkin made the right choice. In 2014, after just being hired, she had roughly a month to get ready with the team before her initial season started. In 2016, on top of trying to build up her program, Elderkin battled cancer.
“I was at a point where I was like ‘Oh my God, can I do this? Am I made for this? Am I built for this?’” Elderkin said. “And I just kept doing what I’ve always known how to do, and it’s like just keep working hard, just keep working hard. To see it turn around, it’s like ‘Wow, I’m glad.’”
Elderkin gained confidence from that point, and she started seeing the same thing in assistants and players last season. Her coaching staff kept talking about flipping the record around. And players dedicated their time to getting better. Elderkin mentioned during exit interviews following the 2017-18 season, Lainey Gosnell said she wanted to stay both summer sessions because she wanted to get better.
Right now, the Mountaineers have six players averaging at least 7 points per game (led by Madi Story’s 12.2). App State is playing unselfishly, and Elderkin feels it can really create matchup problems now.
The Mountaineers are currently in fifth place in the Sun Belt, but a lot can shake out with these final two regular-season games. If App State can hold, the team will avoid on-campus games and go directly to New Orleans and the Lakefront Arena, the site of the conference tournament from March 13 to March 16.
With games at Troy and South Alabama on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, tiebreakers and complications can be avoided by a clean sweep by Appalachian.
But at this point, some validation has been provided to Elderkin. None of that would be possible, she said, if not for her players and assistants.
It seems Elderkin is finally pouring the foundation she wanted to with the Mountaineers.
“I think you can read and you can hear a lot of people say you get to this point in life sometimes where you’re at a crossroads,” Elderkin said. “You can either walk away and say, ‘Hey, I’m not good enough,’ or ‘Hey, I can work harder.’ And I think that could’ve been something that I could have done, but I just never let any of it discourage me.”