December 7, 2009

Eastern Takes on Montana Tech After Short Break for Finals

Eagles will continue to tune-up for Big Sky Conference play with a game against NAIA member Montana Tech


Upcoming Schedule

Date - Opponent - Time/Pacific
Dec. 12 - vs. Montana Tech - 3:30 p.m.

Eagle Webcasts . . .
All of Eastern Washington's women's basketball games at home, as well as all Big Sky Conference games, will be available to view, free of charge, at www.bigskytv.org.


By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information  

The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will be back in action this Saturday (Dec. 12) against the Montana Tech Diggers after a short break for finals week. The Eagles will take on the Diggers at approximately 3:30 p.m. at Reese Court, after the men's basketball team takes on Seattle University.

The contest with Eastern will be the third game in three days for the Diggers, who play at Central Washington University on Thursday Dec. 10 and at Northwest University on Friday Dec. 11. Montana Tech is 7-2 on the season, and Eastern will be third Division I school the Diggers have played this season. Tech lost to both Utah Valley State and Utah State earlier this season, but both games counted as exhibition contests on the Diggers schedule.

"Montana Tech is a well-coached team and always plays hard when we match up," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "They are off to a great start this year so we expect them to come in and play well. As with all of our non-conference games, we are primarily concerned with our improvement as a team. We want to continue getting better on the offensive and defensive end of the floor."

Through nine games, the Diggers are led by Freeman High School alumni and Spokane native Jessie Depell. Depell, a senior, is averaging 17.1 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from behind the arc. Both Taesha Higbee and Dannii Devenny are averaging 10.2 points per game. Devenny leads the Diggers in rebounds, pulling down an average of 8.67 boards a game. She had a season-high of 17 rebounds against South Dakota Tech.

The Eagles are entering Saturday's contest at 5-3, with two of their losses coming from Pac-10 teams Oregon and Washington and the other from West Coast Conference favorite Gonzaga. Eastern's defense has been a strong point so far this season, as the Eagles are forcing an average of 23.6 turnovers per game. Eastern ranks first in the Big Sky in turnover margin at plus 4.9, and is tied for first with Sacramento State for steals per game at 10.4.

"I think to this point of the season our understanding of how to defend has been apparent," said Schuller. "We are forcing turnovers because our team defense has risen to another level and as a whole we are more willing to step out of our comfort zones defensively because we know we have help behind us."

Eastern has also used balanced scoring all season long, with only forward Julie Piper averaging double figures per game at 10.8. Despite a balanced scoring offense, Coach Schuller would like to see her squad improve their shooting percentage, which currently sits at 37 percent through eight games.

"I'd like to see us take some significant steps forward in the next few weeks offensively," said Schuller. "With that said, I am pleased with our results eight games in. We have defended our home floor and been consistently good on defense."

Piper also leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.3 boards a game - good for third in the Big Sky. Guard Brianne Ryan leads the team in steals with 2.4 a game which ranks third in the Big Sky. Ryan is also pouring in 8.5 points per game.

After the game against Montana Tech, Eastern will collide with Cal Poly on Wednesday Dec. 16 at 7:05 p.m. in Reese Court before hitting the road for two games against UC Irvine (Dec. 19) and Cal State Fullerton (Dec. 21). The Eagles will then play their Big Sky opener at Sacramento State on Dec. 31.

 

EWU Basketball Highlights . . .

  • The Eagles have advanced to the Big Sky Conference semifinals three of the past eight years.
  • For the last eight years, Eastern has ranked among the top 10 teams nationally in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll. In 2003-04, Eastern had the top grade point average in the country, 3.63. In 2008-09 EWU ranked ninth (3.42).
  • Two Eagles have attained ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second team honors - Joanna Chadd in 2006-07 and Kathleen Nygaard in 2003-04.
  • The past eight seasons, 67 players have earned Big Sky All-Academic honors, the most in the league.

 

Eagle Returning Letter Winners . . .

Julie Piper attained the most impressive recognition for the Eagles during her sophomore season in 2008-09, as she earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades. She also ranked highly in the league's statistical rankings, placing fifth in free throw shooting (78.3 percent), sixth in rebounds per game (6.8) and 18th in points per game (11.1). Her shooting from the charity stripe also placed her 130th among NCAA Division I players and was the eighth-best in Eastern history. She will enter her junior campaign second in EWU history for career free throw shooting percentage (76.0). She had the best scoring output by an Eagle in the 2008-09 season, scoring 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in Eastern's battle with Big Sky runner-up Portland State on Jan. 24. Piper also set the team pace in rebounds in 18 different contests.

Kyla Evans continued her attack on the Eastern record books as a sophomore. She made 60 three-point baskets, the fifth-highest single-season total ever recorded by an Eagle, and moved her career sum to 112, good for fifth place. In fact, the sophomore's current career three-point shooting percentage of 38.4 is on pace to set the school record. Evans placed 82nd nationally in three-point shooting percentage (36.1) and 100th in three-point baskets per game (2.07). She was third and eighth in those respective categories in the Big Sky ranks. She made 6-of-10 in a 90-75 win over Montana State on Jan. 29 to help the Eagles to within one of the school record of three-point makes in a game (EWU shot 13-of-27 from beyond the arc in that contest). Evans showed her prowess in the classroom, as well, earning ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District 8 first team accolades. She was also the EWU Scholar-Athlete of the Month for December.

Nicole Scott had an outstanding junior season, as well, and the best display of her skills came on Dec. 13 against Pacific that helped her earn Co-Big Sky Player of the Week honors. In that contest, Scott nailed all six of her shots, including three treys, in the best shooting performance by an Eagle since Felice Moore also went 6-of-6 at Montana State on March 6, 2004. Additionally, Scott crafted an impressive streak of consecutive free throws made with 29 straight from Nov. 25-Feb. 7, just two shy of being one of the 22 longest such streaks in Division I history. She led the league in free throw shooting in Big Sky games by converting on 86.5 percent of her attempts (32-of-37). She was also an intimidating force inside, placing sixth in the conference in blocks per game (0.97).

Jessica Huntington was one of the steadiest point guards in the country in her junior season, as her assist-turnover ratio of 1.85 (94-to-50) was the tops in the Big Sky and 23rd best among Division I players. She also averaged 3.24 assists per game, placing seventh in that category among league players. She converted 40.7 of her three-point attempts (22-of-54), the sixth-best average in Eastern Washington history.

Tatjana Sparavalo also had some impressive performances during her sophomore season. She scored 15 in a challenging road game versus UNLV and shot at a high level against Portland on Dec. 15, making 5-of-9 attempts from the floor. In addition, Sparavalo had six of Eastern's points during a game-changing 18-3 run in a victory over Weber State on Jan. 10.

Brianne Ryan started 19 games as a freshman and saw her shooting percentages rise once league play commenced, markedly in the three-point category. She shot 27.3 percent from the arc in non-conference games (9-of-33) and 45.2 percent in league contests (14-of-31).

Chene Cooper also played well as a freshman in 2008-09. Her aggressive nature showed in her steals per game average of 1.62, seventh-best in the Big Sky. She also placed 12th in assists per contest with 2.41. In addition, she improved her shot-selection and shot-conversion skills throughout the season, making just 28.3 percent of her attempts through the first 22 games before converting on 41.3 percent over the last seven games. 

Breauna Russell played in 16 games as an Eastern freshman in 2008-09, finishing the year with 16 points and 11 steals.

 

About Head Coach Wendy Schuller . . .

Under head coach Wendy Schuller, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has reached heights unseen in Cheney in decades, both on and off the basketball court.

Over the past eight campaigns, the team has been ranked amongst the top 10 squads on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll, something only achieved by one other team (Indiana State). The Eagle squad of 2003-04 placed first nationally with a 3.63 grade point average.

Schuller led Eastern to back-to-back .500-or-better regular-season Big Sky Conference records for the first time in school history (2004-05 and 2005-06) as well as tournament appearances in five of her eight seasons at EWU. To put that achievement into perspective, Eastern Washington played in just five BSC Tournaments in its first 13 years of Big Sky play.

Since the Big Sky began sponsoring women's sports in 1988-89, the Eagles have compiled two overall winning seasons and five trips to the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals. Both of those winning marks came during Schuller's time on the Eastern campus, as did three of the five conference semifinal appearances.

Schuller and the Eagles have made Reese Court a challenging place for visitors to play, as Eastern has compiled a commanding 38-29 mark (.567 winning percentage) in its last 67 games played there. Eastern went 8-6 at home last year en route to recording 2.5 times as many overall wins as was attained the previous year, 10.

In 2005-06, Eastern Washington qualified for the Big Sky Conference Championship for the seventh consecutive season and was the fourth seed at the event for the second straight season, its highest seeding since the 1994-95 campaign.

She led Eastern to a winning campaign in 2004-05 (16-12) to start just the team's second set of consecutive winning seasons for the Eagles since the 1986-87 and 1987-88 campaigns.

The 2003-04 season saw Eastern Washington qualify for the BSC Tournament semifinal round for the third straight season.

In 2002-03, Eastern had its first winning campaign in 16 years at 17-12 and came the closest to making the Big Sky championship game in school history, falling in the semifinal round to top seed and host Weber State by just nine points, 64-55.

In Schuller's first season of 2001-02, Eastern Washington claimed a tournament quarterfinal contest as the fifth seed for the first of two straight seasons. The Eagles topped No. 4 Northern Arizona 70-57 to mark its furthest advancement in the tournament in seven years.

Prior to arriving at Eastern, Schuller began her coaching career at Northwestern State University. In 1993, she started coaching as a graduate assistant for the Lady Demons while earning a master's degree in sports administration.

Following graduation, she became a full-time assistant, and her duties included acting as defensive coordinator and primary recruiter and working with opponent preparation and general operations.

In 1997, she was promoted to associate head coach.

Her last six years at the Natchitoches, La., school saw her also serve as the senior woman administrator.

In total, Schuller coached for nine seasons at NSU under head coach James Smith, the most successful coach in Southland Conference history.

In that time span, the team won 185 games and two conference titles and earned a pair of wins over top-25 teams as one of the top-30 winningest NCAA Division I programs of the 1990s.

Schuller earned her bachelor's degree in business in 1992 from Fresno Pacific University after playing for the Sunbirds as a shooting guard.

Her senior season, she helped lead FPU to a 25-6 record, a No. 14 national ranking in the NAIA ranks and advancement to the NAIA Tournament's Round of 16. She was also selected as an NAIA Academic All-American that season.

A native of Redlands, Calif., Schuller and her husband, Mark, have an 9-year-old son, Rory (born Oct. 16, 2000), and a 6-year-old daughter, Megan (born July 15, 2003). The family resides in Cheney.

 

 

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