CHARLESTON – Regan Bollant arrived in Charleston in 2017, pestered by the uncertainty over the final two years of her high school basketball career and how she’d adjust to a new environment now that her father, Matt, was hired as Eastern Illinois’ women’s basketball coach.
“I didn’t know anyone, it was new coaching staff and definitely a higher level than I was at before,” Bollant said.
Just about the only sure thing, she thought, was that she would play the final basketball game of her life sometime in that span. Her freshman and sophomore years spent at Judah Christian School in Champaign, a Class 1A institution with about 120 high school-aged students, thrust any thoughts of playing college basketball into inner recesses of her mind.
“I thought it was out of reach,” Bollant said.
That was, of course, before Bollant seamlessly slid into a new setting that brought out an entirely different level of play and led to four more years of basketball.
Two years later, after leading Class 3A with 88 3-pointers as a senior, winning 54 games and jump-starting her college basketball dream, Bollant signed a letter of intent to play at Milligan College, an NAIA program in eastern Tennessee, on Thursday afternoon. She committed to Milligan in October, shortly after a visit. The warmer weather, the mountains, Milligan’s coaching minor and the chance to live in Tennessee again swayed her from her initial leaning toward Taylor University in Indiana.
With Bollant’s signing, the prior unease and feeling that this was never going to happen were officially erased. Her two years at Charleston changed the trajectory of her college basketball prospects. By finding a home in Charleston, she found one for her college career. All it took was patience, a welcoming yet tough team and one of her dad’s old connections.
Bollant spent the first few weeks and parts of her first season at Charleston navigating a tricky road. She brought needed shooting ability to the team, but wanted to ensure she would not alter the dynamic of an already successful core. The result of this potion was some indecision.
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“She wasn't shooting enough," Charleston coach Jeff Miller said. "I kept getting on her and probably didn't even play her as much as I should have because she wouldn't shoot. I think a large part of that was being the new kid on the block. She didn't want to come in and upset the apple cart.”
Any hesitation went away, though, when she realized her length fit right into Miller’s trapping and pressure-heavy defensive principles. Plus, she naturally reaped the benefits of playing with point guard Shae Littleford, who could get into the paint at will, force help and create space for open shots. There, once willing to fire away from 3-point range at any moment and plenty capable of hitting them, is when the college interest began to trickle in and the dream seemed attainable.
“The fast pace we played at was really fun,” Bollant said.
Meanwhile, Matt Bollant ran into to Milligan coach Rich Aubrey, an old counterpart from his own time in the Appalachian Athletic Conference at Bryan College, at a recent Final Four. He mentioned that Regan was interested in similar schools to Milligan.
Aubrey’s interest grew more sincere after Bollant’s junior season and prompted him to go watch her play AAU basketball last summer. He left a July viewing in Atlanta impressed and told Bollant he wanted her to visit. That’s when he would do his best to make his pitch.
“Perhaps I’m not as much of a salesman as I should be, but when we host recruits on campus, my goal is to look for a match and let the player decide if she’s a match for us,” Aubrey said. “Of course we’re in the process of deciding whether we’re a match for her. Before she made her visit, we were pretty sure we wanted Regan.”
It’s that last sentence Bollant appreciates and savors the most.
“I didn’t think it would happen,” she said, “but I’m really glad it did.”