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During Bradley’s introductory video prior to the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball tournament, four words flashed across the video screen at the TaxSlayer Center.

Gratitude. Ownership. Accountability. Toughness.

Ellie Spelhaug takes those words to heart.

“I think I can fit into those categories,” the Pleasant Valley senior and Bradley signee said. “I think those are four good words to describe how I’m going to have to play to fit into this program, and I think this program represents those four words very well, and it’s something that drew me to them in the first place.”

Spelhaug got a floorside preview of what to expect next year as she watched the Braves defeat the Evansville Purple Aces 77-49 Thursday night.

The opportunity came thanks to Jason Viel, Pleasant Valley’s athletic trainer who was working the tournament with Rock Valley Physical Therapy. Spelhaug was right behind the Bradley bench as it cruised to the win.

“We would have liked to put her on the court, too, if we could have, snuck her down there,” Bradley head coach Andrea Gorski said. “We’re really excited about Ellie, her versatility and what she can bring to our team, and she’s super competitive and a winner.”

Spelhaug is coming off of a stellar four-year career with the Spartans. She earned first-team all-state honors from the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association this year after averaging 17.1 points per game. Spelhaug finished her high school career with a school-record 1,372 points.

She also led the MAC with 140 free throw attempts and finished 12th in the conference averaging 5.2 rebounds per game.

“That’s why we recruited her,” Gorski said. “The kid’s tough, and she’s going to come in right away and give us that toughness on the boards or locking down defensively. Her will to win, out of all those, that’s the one that sticks out with Ellie.”

With the Braves graduating four seniors, Spelhaug knows she might get an opportunity to contribute right away but also knows how much work she still needs to put in. She still plans to run track and help the Spartans defend a state softball title in the summer.

But all of that is a lead up to her next step with the Braves.

“I think the next step of playing at a Division I program, you’ve got to be a step faster, you’ve got to have a quicker shot, you’ve got to have a better shot,” Spelhaug said. “I think I’m going to have to pick up, keep improving. I can’t stay where I was this year. I’ve got to keep working so I can keep up with these girls, but I think these coaches will get us ready.”

The Mississippi Athletic Conference has had a presence in the MVC in recent years. Muscatine’s Leti Lerma finished her career as Bradley’s all-time leading rebounder. North Scott’s Karli Rucker averaged 12.1 minutes and 4.2 points per game as a freshman with UNI this year.

It gives Spelhaug confidence she can come in and compete at the next level.

“I think the MAC does a very good job of preparing girls to play at a Division I level, and I think (PV coach Jennifer) Goetz has done so much for me,” Spelhaug said. “She’s coached at the college level before she came to Pleasant Valley. Some of the workouts we did were definitely college workouts so I think it’s exciting knowing how well those two did and how well Karli Rucker’s doing. I’m just hoping I can do the same thing and fit in.”


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times