Eagles Aim for Redemption in Big Sky Conference Championship
No. 6 Eastern plays No. 3 Montana State Thursday in a rematch of last year's sour semifinal
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2011 Big Sky Conference Championship
EWU vs. Montana State (Quarterfinal)
Thursday, March 10 - 4:35 p.m. PST
Peter W. Stott Center - Portland, Ore.
Live Stats: http://www.sidearmstats.com/portlandstate/wbball/index.htm
TV: Altitude Sports & Entertainment (championship game only)
Although there are many components that go into preparing for a conference tournament, there is a certain undeniable emotion surrounding this quarterfinal matchup between the Eastern Washington Eagles and the Montana State Bobcats. That sentiment … is payback.
For the third-straight Thursday, the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will face off against Montana State in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky Conference Championships on March 10 at the Peter W. Stott Center in Portland, Ore. This is the second year in a row Eastern has been pitted against MSU in its first outing of postseason play.
Last year, Eastern won the Big Sky regular-season title with a 12-4 league record and thus, earned the right to host and the No. 1 seed in the conference championships. The Eagles and sixth-seeded MSU met in the semifinals at Reese Court. Despite an obvious advantage, EWU fell 65-57 in front of its home crowd to the brute underdogs from Bozeman.
"We definitely had a bitter taste in our mouths at the end of the year because of what happened in the conference tournament," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "We have felt all year that we have some business to attend to, and that business is a Big Sky tournament title."
This year, Eastern is the underdog in the postseason picture, and is looking to repay the favor to MSU. The Eags earned the sixth seed in the tournament after finishing 8-8 in conference play. Montana State, who was in the running for a regular-season title until the very last game of the year, finished third in the conference standings with an 11-5 mark. Last season, Portland State won the Big Sky tournament title as the No. 5 seed.
"I like to play the underdog role," expressed Schuller. "I am not the type of person who needs to puff my chest out and be in that top spot all the time, and often times, a coach's personality will rub off on their team. We can play the underdog role – we will fight and scratch and claw – that is more our demeanor anyway. We are just fine with our positioning heading into Portland."
The Bobcats and Eagles will be playing each other for the third Thursday in a row when they meet at 4:35 p.m. Pacific time at the Peter W. Stott Center. Montana State got the best of Eastern during the regular season, as it won in Bozeman on Feb. 24 (70-56), and again in Cheney on March 3 (62-46). Eastern's shooting proved to be its Achilles heel in both contests, as the team converted just 37-of-124 shots (29.8 percent) in the two games combined, including a bleak 5-of-27 effort (18.5 percent) from three-point range.
"First and foremost, we have to shoot the ball better," said Schuller. "After watching film, we see that shot selection is part of it, but really, we have just struggled to make easy baskets."
Two of Eastern's primary offensive threats shot a combined 15 percent from the field in the two regular-season games against MSU. Senior Julie Piper was 3-of-19, while junior Chene Cooper made just 3-of-21 attempts against the Bobcats.
"We have to get more out of Piper and Coop," said Schuller. "We rely on them to get a lot of shots for us, and we have to do better than 6-of-40."
"If we can get Piper to slow down and play at a more consistent pace, she will shoot a higher percentage," added Schuller. "From where she is shooting, she should be making 40 to 50 percent from the field in every game. Coop has also missed a lot of shots recently that she would normally knock down. She has had to play a lot of minutes over the course of the season, and she plays really hard when she is out there, so maybe it was a matter of fatigue. We will try to rest up a little this week and be as fresh as we can on Thursday, so hopefully, we will take great shots and knock them down."
Eastern will also be looking for an improved defensive effort in the post when it plays MSU in the quarterfinals. Montana State's sophomore forward Rachel Semansky scored 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the most recent meeting, and a majority of those points came in the form of point-blank layups.
"We have to keep the ball out of the post as best we can," said Schuller. "They really hurt us last Thursday getting the ball into [Rachel] Semansky. Montana State is capable of putting a lot of points on the board because of that great inside-outside game."
Since becoming a member of NCAA Division I athletics in the 1983-84, Eastern has advanced to the conference tournament 16 times. Seven of those postseason berths have come in Schuller's 10-year stint. The Eagles are 8-14 all-time in conference tournament games, and 3-6 under Schuller. Eastern has played Montana State only twice in the postseason. The most recent meeting was of course, the 65-57 upset by MSU in last year's semifinal. The only other meeting between the two schools was in 1988, when EWU topped the Bobcats, 81-65 in the first round in Missoula, Mont.
The all-time series, combining regular and post-season results, between Eastern and Montana State stands at 38-34, in favor of MSU. In Schuller's tenure, the Eagles have won nine of 21 games against the Bobcats.
If Eastern does beat Montana State on Thursday, the Eags would advance to the semifinal round to face No. 1 seed Portland State (19-12, 12-4 BSC) at 7:05 p.m. on Friday (March 11). The championship game will take place on Saturday (March 12) at 3 p.m., and will be televised on Altitude Sports & Entertainment.
2011 Big Sky Conference Championship Schedule
Thursday, March 10
Quarterfinal #1 – 4:35 p.m. PT
No. 3 Montana State (17-13, 11-5 BSC) vs. No. 6 Eastern Washington (12-17, 8-8 BSC)
Quarterfinal #2 – 7:05 p.m. PT
No. 4 Montana (15-14, 10-6 BSC) vs. No. 5 Idaho State (18-11, 9-7 BSC)
Friday, March 11
Semifinal #1 – 4:35 p.m. PT
No. 2 Northern Colorado (17-12, 12-4 BSC) vs. Highest Remaining Seed
Semifinal #2 – 7:05 p.m. PT
No. 1 Portland State (19-10, 12-4 BSC) vs. Lowest Remaining Seed
Saturday, March 12
Championship – 2:07 p.m. PT
Winner Semifinal #1 vs. Winner Semifinal #2
Eagle News & Notes
Eagles Land Three on All-Big Sky Conference Teams
Three members of the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team were recognized by the league's head coaches as All-Big Sky selections for the 2010-11 season. Junior guard Brianne Ryan was honored on the All-Big Sky first team, while junior Chene Cooper and senior Julie Piper were part of the honorable mention squad. Ryan, a product of Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash., is no stranger to league honors, as she was named the Big Sky Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. But this year is actually Ryan's first time on an All-Big Sky Conference team. Ryan finished the Big Sky season as the third-leading scorer in the league, averaging 15.9 points per game. Her field goal percentage in league-only statistics (50.8) also ranked third overall in the conference. Defensively, Ryan was just as impressive, averaging 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals throughout the conference season, while often having to guard the opposing team's top player. Cooper, out of Lakes High School in Puyallup, Wash., was named to the honorable mention squad, marking the first conference honor for the junior. Cooper was undeniable in conference play this season, as she led the league in assists and steals. In league-only statistics, she averaged 5.0 dimes per game and 2.6 steals. She was also among the top 15 scorers in the Big Sky, averaging 12.9 tallies per game. She had two games this season with 10+ assists, including a career-high 14 against Sacramento State on Jan. 22. That passing performance was the best turned in by any player in the Big Sky this season. Joining Cooper as a member of the honorable mention squad was Piper, who was the Big Sky MVP a year ago. This season, Piper was one of the top five rebounders in the league, averaging 8.1 boards per game, as well as one of the top five shot blockers at 1.1 per game. In the final four outings of the conference season, Piper averaged 9.5 caroms per contest, which included two career-high performances of 15 boards against Montana State (Feb. 24) and Montana (March 5). Piper was also a constant offensive threat, averaging just under 10 points per game in league play. Her free throw percentage of .800 was among the top 10 in the conference, while her field goal percentage (43.9) in all games during the 2010-11 season ranked seventh in the Big Sky.
Eastern's Keys to Success
Come Out Hot - The Eagles are 10-3 this season in games they are leading at the half. Conversely, the team is 1-13 when they trail at intermission. Focus on Efficiency - Eastern is 11-2 in games where it shoots a higher field goal percentage than its opponent. EWU has lost 14 of the 15 games in which its opponent shoots a higher percentage from the field. Hold em' to 40 - The magic number for Eastern's defense should be 40, or rather, less than 40. The Eagles have won 11 of 13 games this season when its opponent shoots less than 40 percent from the field. When the opposition manages 40 percent or higher, EWU is 1-15.
Distributing the Wealth
Eastern is one of only two teams in the Big Sky to have at least four players with double-digit scoring averages. Unfortunately, the other team with an equally versatile offense is Montana State, who EWU faces in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky Conference tournament this Thursday. MSU has five players who all average 10+ points per game. Brianne Ryan leads the way for EWU at 13.8, followed by Chene Cooper (11.4), Tatjana Sparavalo (10.8) and Julie Piper (10.4). In Eastern's 29 games of the regular season, six different players led the team in scoring. That same depth is evident on the defensive end, as seven different Eagles have led in both rebounding and steals.
Eagles Celebrate First Win in Missoula in 24 Years
The 2011 Eastern Washington women's basketball team celebrated one of the biggest victories in school history on Saturday (Feb. 26) when the team defeated the Montana in Missoula, 71-63. With the win, Eastern snapped a 27-game and 24-year losing streak in Missoula. The last time EWU won on UM's home court was in 1987 – Eastern's first year as a member of the Big Sky Conference. The Eags upset Montana, 77-74, in the championship game of Big Sky tournament. That win on March 7, 1987 gave Eastern its first and only Big Sky tournament title to this day. The 2011 Eagles are now just the third team in EWU history to accomplish such a feat, while head coach Wendy Schuller is just the second Eastern women's basketball coach ever to win at Dahlberg Arena. Former head coach Bill Smithpeters did it twice, once in 1980, and then again on that historic day in 1987.
Coop Lays Claim to Big Sky POW
For the first time in her career, Chene Cooper was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week for games played Feb. 14 – Feb. 20. This is the first weekly honor Eastern Washington in the 2010-11 season. Cooper, a 2008 graduate of Lakes High School in Puyallup, Wash., led the Eagles to an important pair of conference victories against Northern Arizona and Weber State With the sweep at home, Eastern clinched a berth to the 2011 Big Sky Conference tournament and improved its conference record to 7-5.Cooper averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists on the week. She shot 42 percent from the field, and made 17-of-20 free throws for 85 percent shooting from the line. Against the Lumberjacks , Cooper scored a game-high 23 points - just one shy of her career high. She also had six rebounds, five assists and two steals. She hit two three-pointers in the contest, the second one a clutch shot from the top of the key that put EWU up by one point (55-54) with just under a minute remaining. Cooper went on to make 3-of-4 free throws in the final minute to seal the victory for EWU. In Eastern's win over Weber State, Cooper scored 18 points, another game high, and had four rebounds, seven assists and two steals. She hit 8-of-10 free throws, and had just two turnovers in 33 minutes on the court.
Piper Cracks Top 10
This season, senior Julie Piper has moved into the top 10 in the EWU career record book in six different categories. She is one of the top 10 scorers in Eastern history, now at eighth on the all-time points scored list with 1,171 career tallies, and 10th in field goals made with 460. Piper is fifth in rebounding with 775 career boards, fourth in free throws made (248) and sixth in free throws attempted (340). She is tied for fourth in career games played, having appeared in 118 games throughout her tenure.
Evans Dominates from Downtown
Senior Kyla Evans hit five three pointers against Seattle on Feb. 8, and in doing so, broke the EWU all-time record for career three pointers made. Evans, who now has 203 treys in her tenure, surpassed Stephanie Ulmer, who owned the previous record of 195 career three pointers made. Ulmer played for Wendy Schuller from 2002-05. Evans had been just three three pointers away from the record for more than a month, but when a chronic back injury flared up just before the start of conference play, she was forced to miss eight games in a row from Jan. 13 - Feb. 5. The untimely hiatus didn't seem to affect the senior though, as she turned in the best performance of her season in her first game back on Feb. 8, going 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Evans is one of only four active players in the Big Sky who has 150+ career three-pointers and the only current Eagle who appears in the Big Sky record book, as she is sixth in career three pointers (203) and tied for 16th in career three-point field goal percentage (.383).
Coop Climbing the Charts
Just a junior, Chene Cooper has already cracked the top 10 list in two categories of the EWU career record book. Cooper has 170 total steals thus far in her career, which is third in the EWU record book. Sixty-six of those steals have come this season, which ranks third all-time at Eastern. She had 57 steals last season, which was the seventh-best single-season performance in Eastern history. Coop has 311 total assists in her career, which ranks ninth in the record book. Her 152 helpers this season is the seventh-best single-season performance in Eastern history.
Sparavalo Sizzles Off the Bench
Eastern's invaluable "sixth man," Tatjana Sparavalo, has scored in double figures in 17 games this season. She is currently Eastern's third-leading scorer with 10.8 points per game, which she has earned in 568 minutes off the bench. She is one of only six players in the Big Sky to have four or more double-doubles this season, which is also the most for any player on the EWU roster. She tied her career high scoring mark with 24 points in Eastern's narrow 75-68 loss at Northern Colorado. She had four three pointers in that contest. She has set a career high in rebounding on two occassions this season, with 11 boards against Cal State Fullerton (11/12/10) and Portland State (1/8/11).
Freshman Aubrey Ashenfelter has played in every game of the 2010-11 season, averaging 16.3 minutes. She has earned four starts, including three of the last four games in conference play. A product of Southridge High School in Portland, Ore., Ashenfelter has scored 90 points for Eastern and dished out 40 assists, the third-most on the team. Freshman Chenise Pakootas, a native of Inchelium, Wash., has appeared in 22 of 29 games this season, and has earned a starting nod in four of those contests. Pakootas had to step up to help fill the shoes of injured players Breauna Russell and Kyla Evans (Evans has now returned to the lineup after sitting for more than a month). Pakootas averages 9.3 minutes, 2.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. Freshman Laura Hughes, who came to Eastern from Richland, Wash., has also been an important player off the bench this season. As Eastern's tallest player at 6-2, Hughes provides depth in the post, averaging 2.2 rebounds per game and 3.6 points. She has played 232 total minutes this season, including a career-high 22 against national-powerhouse Gonzaga on Dec. 3.
Julie Piper has not missed a single game since the first time she stepped on the court as a freshman in 2007. She played in all 29 games during her rookie season, all 29 as a sophomore in 2008-09 and all 31 last year, as well as all 29 of the current season. She has started 111 of those 118 games. Besides her consistent court presence, Piper has scored at least two points in every game since Feb. 14, 2009 (0 vs. ISU), and has had at least two rebounds in every game since Nov. 28. 2008 (2 vs. UNLV). This season, Piper has had 15 double-digit scoring outings, and six with double-digit rebounds, including a career-high 15 in two of EWU's most recent contests against Montana State (Feb. 24) and Montana (March 5).
Ojeda Turns it On
Carrie Ojeda recorded her first-career double-double on Jan. 27 against Portland State. She had 11 points and a team-leading 12 rebounds in EWU's narrow 77-70 loss to the Vikings. Both were career highs for the sophomore forward. She is now one of five Eagles to register at least one double-double in 2010-11. Ojeda is among the top five shot blockers in the Big Sky and top 200 in the nation, averaging 1.1 blocks per contest.
One Night, Two Career Highs for Coop
Junior Chene Cooper had a career night in Eastern's 75-67 win over UC Irvine on Dec. 15 and in EWU's 73-44 rout of Saint Martin's on Dec. 11. The five-foot point guard scored 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting against the Anteaters, and also pulled down a team-leading 10 rebounds in the contest. Her previous career highs in those categories were 23 points and eight rebounds.
Freshmen Earn Starting Nods
For the first time in their careers, freshmen Chenise Pakootas and Aubrey Ashenfelter earned starting nods in EWU's games against UNC (Feb. 3) and ISU (Feb. 5). Pakootas, a 5-10 guard from Inchelium, Wash., started both contests for the Eagles, while Ashenfelter was on the floor to start the game against Idaho State. Ashenfelter, a 6-0 guard from Portland, Ore., played a career-high 31 minutes against the Bengals. She finished with 11 points, which included two clutch three pointers that kept Eastern in the game in the final minutes. She also had three assists and three steals. Pakootas averaged 22.0 minutes per game over the weekend. She had a career-high five assists against UNC, while also chipping in seven points.
Ryan Delivers Top Offensive Performance in Big Sky
Junior Brianne Ryan poured in a career-high 33 points against Sacramento State on Jan. 22. She converted 14-of-18 shot from the field, which is also a career high in field goals made for the junior. Her 33 tallies was only five shy of the EWU school record for points in a single game, held by Vanessa Jones (1989-1991), who scored 38 against Lewis-Clark on Dec. 5, 1990. It is also the single-best offensive performance, in terms of points and field goals made, for any player in the Big Sky this season. Ryan has scored in double digits in all but four of Eastern's contests this year.
Cooper Adds to Season Accolades as Scholar-Athlete Award Recipient for February
Eastern's starting point guard Chene Cooper was selected by the EWU athletic department as the female Scholar-Athlete award recipient for the month of February. Cooper, a 2008 graduate of Lakes High School in Puyallup, Wash., has a 3.28 GPA in criminal justice. Cooper had an impressive month on the basketball court, highlighted by Big Sky Player of the Week honors for games played Feb. 14 – Feb. 20. The award was the first weekly honor of her career and the first and only for Eastern Washington in the 2010-11 season. Cooper led the Eagles to four conference victories in February, including an important pair of wins at home against Northern Arizona (Feb. 17) and Weber State (Feb. 19), which clinched Eastern's bid to the 2011 Big Sky Conference tournament. Cooper averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists on the week. She shot 42 percent from the field, and made 17-of-20 free throws for 85 percent shooting from the line. In addition to honors received during the month, Cooper was recently recognized for contributions made throughout the entire conference season, as she was selected as a member of the All-Big Sky Honorable Mention team.
Ryan Earns First Scholar-Athlete Honors of 2011
Junior Brianne Ryan was selected by the EWU athletic department as the Female Scholar-Athlete Award recipient for the month of January. Ryan, a product of Lynden Christian High School in Lynden, Wash., has a 3.20 GPA in interdisciplinary studies. Ryan poured in a career-high 33 points against Sacramento State on a blistering .778 percentage from the field. She was 9-of-9 to open the contest, and missed only one shot total in the first half. Ryan also contributed six rebounds and three assists in that contest. Ryan led the Eagles in scoring in five of Eastern's seven games during the month of January. She averaged 20.3 points per game on 60 percent shooting and had the second-most assists on the team with 14. She also averaged 4.6 boards per game during the month. Ryan has started and played in all 27 games this season, averaging 32.4 minutes per game. She has scored in double-digits in 23 of those 27 games, including 15 of the last 16.
Sparavalo is December Scholar-Athlete
Senior Tatjana Sparavalo was selected as EWU's Female Scholar-Athlete of the Month for December. Sparavalo, a native of Novi Sad, Serbia, earned her bachelor's degree from Eastern in just three years. With a 3.62 cumulative GPA, she graduated cum laude in 2010 with a degree in business administration. She is currently working on her master's in business at EWU. One of three seniors on the 2010-11 squad, Sparavalo serves as Eastern's invaluable "sixth man," averaging 19.2 minutes off the bench. She is the tird-leading scorer and rebounder on the team with 10.9 points and 4.9 caroms per contest. Sparavalo has also made the most three pointers of any player on the EWU roster (38). Beyond her athletic contributions, Sparavalo has been named to the Big Sky All-Academic team for three consecutive years.
Piper Named to Omni Hotels Classic All-Tournament Team
Julie Piper was selected as one of five standout players for the 24th Annual Omni Hotels Classic All-Tournament Team. Piper averaged 15.0 points per game in the two games played in Boulder, Colo., on Nov. 26 and 27. She shot an impressive 52 percent from the field and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. With those eight made free throws over the weekend, she moved into the top 10 in the Eastern record book for career free throws made. Piper registered her first double-double of the season against the Ramblers with 20 points and 13 rebounds. She was 7-of-15 from the field, and knocked down all six of her attempts from the charity stripe. She also scored in double digits against the Purple Aces, tallying 10 points of 4-of-6 shooting. Although her time on the floor was limited due to foul trouble, she added six rebounds and two steals in just 15 minutes.
Piper Selected as Candidate for Lowe's Senior CLASS Award
EWU senior forward Julie Piper was selected as one of 30 candidates for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as a NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence - community, classroom, character and competition. The 2011 women's candidate class includes five players who were CoSIDA Academic All-Americans last year, 22 student-athletes with grade point averages of 3.0 or better, four players who participated in the 2010 Women's Final Four and 15 players on the preseason watch list for the John R. Wooden Award.
Current Eagle Brianne Ryan is the daughter of one of the all-time greats in the Eastern Washington Women's Basketball program, Neil Ryan (formerly Neil Ann Massie). Neil Ryan played basketball for EWU from 1979-82, and is the third-leading rebounder in school history with 1,008 career rebounds. Her career rebounding average of 8.47 ranks fourth in the EWU record book, while her 346 rebounds in the 1979 season is the fourth-best single season performance in program history. She is also one of the all-time leading scorers, as her 1,190 career points ranks seventh overall in the EWU record book. She ranks sixth in career field goals made (509) and tenth in field goals attempted (1,001). EWU's relationship with the Ryan family does not stop there. Head coach Wendy Schuller recently signed Brianne's younger sister and Neil's youngest daughter, Kayleigh, to a national letter of intent to play basketball at Eastern starting in the 2011-12 school year.
Eagles Sign Four for 2011-12 Season
Four high school seniors from the state of Washington have signed national letters of intent to play basketball at Eastern Washington University. The members of the 2011 recruiting class include 5-foot-1 point guard Kylie Huerta from Kentwood High School, 5-11 guard Kayleigh Ryan from Lynden Christian High School, 6-0 forward Melissa Williams from Camas High School in Vancouver and 5-10 shooting guard Hayley Hodgins from Chiawana High School in Pasco. Huerta was ranked among the top 110 point guards in the nation according to ESPN Hoopgurlz.com, and earned South Puget Sound League North Division Co-MVP honors in 2010 after leading the league in points per game (18.9) and steals (57). Ryan, sister of current Eagle, Brianne Ryan, is a dual-sport athlete, earning letters in basketball and volleyball at Lynden Christian. As a junior on the basketball team, she averaged nine points, eight rebounds and 4.7 assists per game for the Lyncs. Williams was selected as the 2010 Greater St. Helen's League Player of the Year and the Columbian's All-Region Player of the Year. She led her team to the Class 3A District Championship in 2010, averaging 16 points per game throughout the year. Hodgins was a member of the Columbia Basin Big Nine Cascaded Division first-team in 2010 and was twice named the Tri-City Herald Athlete of the Week. Hodgins was the league's leading scorer during her junior year, averaging 18.4 points per game. She shot 46 percent from three-point range, which was also the best in the league.
Accomplishments Under Schuller
- The 2009-10 squad won the school's first-ever Big Sky Conference regular-season title and hosted the league tournament for the first time in school history.
- The 2009-10 Eagles advanced to the Women's National Invitation Tournament, which marked the first national postseason appearance for EWU since 1987.
- Eastern earned an overall record of 19-12 and conference record of 12-4 in 2009-10, which were the best recorded by an EWU team since the 1984-35 season.
- Julie Piper was named 2010 Big Sky Most Valuable Player, becoming the first player in program history to earn such an honor.
- Schuller was selected as the 2010 Big Sky Coach of the Year. She has collected 113 wins at EWU, which is the second-most victories in school history.
- The Eagles have advanced to the Big Sky Conference semifinals in six of Schuller's nine years at the helm of the program (2002-06, 2010).
- For the past nine-consecutive seasons, Eastern has earned a spot on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll -- something achieved by only one other team in Division I history (Indiana State). Eastern has been among the top five academic teams in the nation in seven of those nine years, including the 2003-04 campaign, in which the team placed first nationally with a 3.63 cumulative grade point average.
- Two Eagles have attained ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second-team honors -- Joanna Chadd in 2006-07 and Kathleen Nygaard in 2003-04.
- Kyla Evans received ESPN The Magazine All-District VIII honors in 2009.
- The past nine seasons, 74 players have earned Big Sky All-Academic honors, the most in the league.