Eagles Have Turnaround Season in 2008-09

March 27, 2009

 

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The Eastern Washington University 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.

In addition to its quality team performances this year, the Eagles had a number of individuals earn honors.

Julie Piper attained the most impressive recognition, as she earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades. The sophomore 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 this 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.

Meanwhile, Kyla Evans continued her attack on the Eastern record books. 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 this year (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. The EWU Scholar-Athlete of the Month for December carries a 3.96 grade point average in Eastern Washington's Honors Program.

Nicole Scott had an outstanding season, as well, and the best display of her skills came on Dec. 13 when she had a high-octane performance against Pacific and then proceeded to earn Co-Big Sky Player of the Week honors for her efforts. 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, the junior 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, 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. The junior 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.

Chene Cooper also played well. 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, the freshman 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. 

However, Cooper was not the only freshman who played well.

Pauline Ferrall shot at a 50.6 percent clip in Big Sky play, including 53.6 percent in the last three games of the season (15-of-28), two of which were road games versus the top two teams in the conference, Montana and Portland State.

Brianne Ryan started 19 games and saw her shooting percentages rise once league play commenced, markedly in the three-point category, as 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).

Cameryn Calhoun earned her first three starting nods the last three games of the campaign and earned 189 minutes of playing time in 12 conference games after seeing action in just 85 minutes of 11 non-conference tilts.

The two seniors who wrapped up their Eagle careers this year 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.

Tatjana Sparavalo also had some impressive performances. 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.

As a team, the Eagles also put together some impressive performances in 2008-09.

One of those was that 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.

Overall, the Eagles moved in the right direction in 2008-09 and look to keep the momentum going in 2009-10, as the Eagles return 11-of-12 letterwinners and all five starters from this year's squad.

"With the bulk of our team back and a talented class coming in, next fall will be very competitive," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "However, the offseason is crucial to our improvement as a team next year. Dedicating to becoming physically stronger and better basketball players this summer will make 2009-10 a fun and exciting year."

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