Although all five starters are back from last season, Eastern will have its hands full with early road games at Portland and Oregon
With plenty of experience to lean upon early in the season, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team is hoping is exhibition performances translate to success this week when its 2009-10 campaign begins for real.
The Eagles will officially open their season Saturday (Nov. 14) when they play at Portland in a game that begins at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Two days later on Monday (Nov. 16), the Eagles play at Oregon in the women's collegiate coaching debut for first-year Duck head coach Paul Westhead.
"We start with a challenging road trip to Portland and Oregon this week," said Eastern head coach Wendy Schuller. "It will be important for us in both games to stay within ourselves and do what we do rather than getting caught up in our opponent's style of play."
Eastern returns eight of 12 letter winners from last year's team that finished 10-19 overall and 5-11 in the Big Sky Conference. Five of the returning players are starters, and that helped translate to impressive exhibition victories. The Eagles defeated Central Washington 101-49 on Nov. 3 and Warner Pacific 69-46 on Nov. 7.
"After those two exhibition games last week, our team is excited to get started with the regular season," said Schuller, who enters her ninth season at the helm. "I think we have worked extremely hard in the off-season and in the early weeks of practice to prepare for the season that lies ahead."
The returning starters include 6-foot-1 forward Julie Piper, who earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors a year ago. She averaged 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds while making 78.3 percent of her shots from the free throw line.
The other starters back are 6-2 post Nicole Scott, 6-0 guard Brianne Ryan, 5-11 guard Kyla Evans and 5-8 point guard Jessica Huntington. Huntington and Scott are the team's lone seniors, but the Eagles have a total of 15 letters worth of experience back this season.
"Having the returning core of players back has been refreshing," said Schuller. "It has given us the ability to be further along than we often would at this time of year."
The Pilots finished 17-14 last season and were 10-4 in the West Coast Conference, earning them an invitation to the WNIT postseason tournament. Portland, which defeated Concordia 63-53 in an exhibition on Nov. 4, also plays Warner Pacific on Nov. 11. The Pilots return seven of 12 letter winners, including a trio of starters.
"Portland is always a great matchup for us and has some outstanding players back off of a great season last year," said Schuller. "It will be a good opportunity for us to get an early gauge of where we are to this point."
Westhead comes to Oregon with a coaching resume that spans nearly four decades, including stints in the NBA, WNBA and the men's collegiate ranks. Known for executing an exciting brand of run-and-gun basketball, Westhead recently coached the Phoenix Mercury to a WNBA championship in 2007. His latest hardware made him the only head coach to win a championship in both the NBA (1980 with the Los Angeles Lakers) and WNBA.
The Ducks, who were just 9-21 overall and 5-10 in the Pacific 10 Conference, overwhelmed their two exhibition opponents. Oregon defeated Southern Oregon 109-47 on Nov. 3 and Western Oregon 109-65 on Nov. 8. A year ago, Oregon was the lowest-scoring team in the Pac-10, averaging less than 57 points a game
"Oregon will be an interesting matchup because of the style we anticipate they will play," said Schuller. "Coach Westhead is a legendary coach and will undoubtedly have his team ready to play a fast and furious 40 minutes of basketball."
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.
Tatiana 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.
EWU 2008-09 Season Recap . . .
The Eastern women's basketball team made some significant strides in the right direction in 2008-09, going 10-19, 5-11 in Big Sky Conference play, to improve upon its 4-25 record from the year before, 1-15 in league play. The Eagles were among a handful of teams at the NCAA Division I level to earn 2.5 times as many victories - and five times as many league wins - as its counterpart did a year ago.
The two seniors who wrapped up their Eagle careers in the 2008-09 season were co-captains Amy Bratvold and Morgan Rulon. Bratvold started 10 of Eastern's last 13 games and averaged 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest, while Rulon saw action in seven contests and scored five points in her last home game on Feb. 14 versus Idaho State.
As a team, the Eagles also put together some impressive performances in 2008-09.
One of those was a dominating 82-68 road win over Weber State on Jan. 10, which saw Eastern put an end to a 22-game losing streak the Eagles had against the Wildcats in Ogden, Utah. It was also the largest margin of victory for Eastern Washington in a Big Sky road game since a 77-46 win at Portland State on Jan. 15, 2005.
The Eagles shot 56.3 percent from the floor in that game (27-of-48), its best shooting performance since making 57.8 percent in an 81-56 win over the Vikings on Feb. 12, 2005. Eastern also converted 58.3 percent of its three-point attempts in that game (7-of-12), something that was last attained against Idaho on Jan. 10, 2007.
Another outstanding road performance occurred on Nov. 28, when the Eagles defeated Mountain West Conference-member UNLV 70-69 in overtime in the semifinal round of the Lady Rebel Round-Up. That victory was pivotal in that it snapped Eastern's 16-game losing stream away from home. It was also EWU's first-ever win over UNLV and its initial one against a Mountain West foe since defeating Wyoming 53-30 on Jan. 10, 2004.
Eastern Washington claimed another overtime game in its Big Sky opener on Jan. 2, a 70-64 win over Northern Arizona. The exciting game saw the teams tie 13 times and exchange leads on 16 occasions before Eastern ended the contest on a 6-0 run. The overtime game was the team's third of the season, the most played by the Eagles since the 2004-05 squad also had three contests go beyond 40 minutes. The victory allowed Eastern to claim its league lid-lifter for the sixth time in seven years.
In their first home game of the season on Nov. 21 versus San Francisco, the Eagles rallied from a 38-33 halftime deficit to outscore USF 47-32 after the break in an 80-70 victory. That win marked the initial time Eastern Washington had rallied from behind at the interval since a 29-27 deficit became a 66-63 victory over Sacramento State on Feb. 24, 2007. The win also allowed EWU to claim its home opener for the fourth straight year.
Even though the Eagles were defeated on the road by Sacramento State, 74-67, on Feb. 5, the team showed its drive and refusal to back down no matter the score. The team stormed back from a 20-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining and went on a 21-2 run to cut the previous 61-41 margin to just two, 64-62, with 3:20 to play.
Eastern's 72-46 handling of Eastern Oregon on Dec. 30 marked the team's largest margin of victory since a 96-57 win over Corban College on Nov. 17, 2006. The victory was also EWU's fifth of the season, allowing the Eagles to surpass their win total from the previous season before the month of December had even concluded.