Story leads Mountaineers to WBI title

Appalachian State’s Madi Story takes on three North Texas defenders during the final of the Womens Basketball Invitational tournament.

BOONE — Madi Story and Angel Elderkin arrived at Appalachian State the same year, 2014.

Story, a Maiden native, was a recruit from Bandys High School. Her mother, Mitzi Story, played women’s basketball at Appalachian State from 1988-92.

But Madi Story was joining a team that was undergoing a sudden change at head coach. Darcie Vincent had resigned her post in September 2014, and the Mountaineers were looking for a coach to take over the program just three weeks before the season was to start.

Enter Angel Elderkin.

An assistant coach at Louisiana State, Elderkin took the job. She had just a little bit of time to organize practices and get the Mountaineers ready for the season.

The good news, at the time, was that the Mountaineers had some solid players returning, and the Mountaineers finished with a 14-16 record, 9-11 mark in App State’s first season in the Sun Belt Conference.

Five years later, Appalachian State returned to a postseason tournament for the first time since the Vincent era. App State beat North Texas 76-59 in the finals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational tournament in front of a women’s basketball record crowd of 1,823 at the Holmes Center.

“I love this team and I love this staff so much,” Elderkin said. “To go up there and — you’ve heard me tell the story. I made them cut down the nets all preseason, all postseason. I made them do so many things to believe that we could do it and we did it. I was so overwhelmed with emotion.”

Elderkin’s Mountaineers finished the season by winning 10 of their last 12 games. The 22-14 record is the best App State has posted since the Vincent years.

“Wow. I really can’t say enough about our team and our vision. As a coach you have people tell you all the time that player-led teams can go a lot farther than coach-led teams. All the reading and the studying I’ve done, this team was a player-led team when it came to March, and it took us on an unbelievable ride.”

Elderkin and Story went through adversity to get to the final game of the WBI. On the court, the duo was trying to get the Mountaineers their first winning season since 2012-13.

That was small potatoes compared to what both women went through during the past few years off the court. Elderkin was stricken with endometrial cancer in 2016. She battled the disease by getting treatment in Chapel Hill every day, but still made all of her practice sessions.

Elderkin also did not miss a game during the 2016-17 season. She ended her treatments just after the Mountaineers got back from playing DePaul in Chicago on Nov. 16, 2016. She was awarded the United States Basketball Writer’s Association Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award. ESPN analyst Holly Rowe also was awarded the honor.

Appalachian State’s Athletic Director Doug Gillin rewarded Elderkin April 8 with a four-year contract extension.

Story had her own adversity to fight through. In a scrimmage at the start of the 2017-18 season, her senior season, Story tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.

The injury cost her the season, but she took a redshirt. Story could have left the program and worked on her degree in communications science and disorders and moved on. Instead, she rehabilitated her injury and was in the starting lineup to start the 2018-19 season.

Story finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting against North Texas despite not playing much of the first quarter because of foul trouble. When she came off the court for the final time, Story lifted Elderkin with a tight embrace.

“We’ve been through so much together,” Story said. “I came in and she came in. It was a lot of ups and downs and obstacles in my years and so just to go out like we did, it was amazing. It was incredible.”

“Madi has defined and redefined in her four years the standard of Appalachian State women’s basketball,” Elderkin said. “She is by far the hardest worker I’ve ever coached in terms of her relentlessness to be great. She’s great on the court. She’s great in the classroom. She wakes up aspiring to be great at what she does and if she isn’t, she’s disappointed.”

Elderkin said nothing was given to Story, who played in 28 games her freshman year, but started in just one. Story averaged 3.6 points per game her freshman year and 8.6 points per game when she was a sophomore.

Story broke through in her junior season by averaging 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. She was named to the first-team All-Preseason Sun Belt team before her senior season before her injury.

“When she worked so hard for something and then tore her ACL, she didn’t say, ‘Well you know what, I was at App, we were not really winning.’ She could have easily said, ‘I’m not going to come back for a fifth year’ and she did.”

Story’s supporting cast, including starters center Bayley Plummer, guard Pre Stanley, forward Lainey Gosnell and backups Maya Calder, Tierra Wilson, Nicola Mathews, and Armani Hampton all gained valuable experience in Story’s absence, according to Elderkin. App State also added transfer point guard Ashley Polacek, who was not allowed to play in games last season because of NCAA transfer rules, but she was allowed to practice.

“We were going to take our bumps and our bruises, but we were going to be a better team when she came back,” Elderkin said. “She has left her mark on our program. If we didn’t cut down the nets, whenever that day was going to be, she was going to be here and do it with us. She’s going to be a big part of what this program does moving forward.”

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