Nov. 19, 2008
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team plays its first home game of the 2008-09 season at 7:05 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 21) against San Francisco of the West Coast Conference.
Eastern has won its last three season openers and, in last year's meeting with San Francisco, had its highest point total of the 2007-08 campaign in a 95-86 loss on the USF campus.
The Eagles opened their season last Friday and played well until Nevada pulled away in the second half for a 64-49 win over Eastern.
"Our effort level was good, and we played hard," Schuller said. "Nevada was extremely athletic and, down the stretch, they wore us down with their quickness and athleticism. But, after looking at film, I can see there were a lot of things we can immediately improve on."
In that game, Kyla Evans had 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range (5-of-9 overall), while Julie Piper set a career high in rebounds with 13 and contributed 10 points to record a double-double for the second time as an Eagle.
San Francisco opened its season at two-time defending national champion Tennessee and fell to the Lady Vols 68-39 on Saturday (Nov. 15) before rallying to beat the San Francisco Academy of Art 80-50 in its home opener three days later.
"They are a team that is going to be athletic," Schuller said. "We competed right with them down the stretch last year, and we are a better team than we were a year ago.
"Every time we step on the floor, we get better. Our goal is to be playing well come January when the Big Sky (Conference) season rolls around."
Huntington Nears Entrance to Assist List
Just one game into her junior season at Eastern Washington, point guard Jessica Huntington is nearing entrance into the all-time career assists top-10 list for the Eagles. She currently has 212, while the 10th spot is currently held by Alice Davis, who had 217 from the 1983-84 through 1984-85 seasons.
2008-09 Eastern Washington Season Preview
The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team has been working hard all summer and throughout the fall in preparation of the 2008-09 campaign with full intentions to surprise people this season.
Returning for the Eagles will be four starters and eight letterwinners from last year's squad. That octet of players is coming together well with the six newcomers the first couple weeks of preseason practices.
"I've been very happy with how the two groups have blended together early," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "We've got really good team chemistry and, for a team with six newcomers, that's a rare thing, especially this early.
"The older players have embraced the younger ones; they know that they are an important part of our ability to be successful this year. And the young players have adapted quickly and are working hard to learn as fast as they can what we are asking of them. They have stepped in quickly and have embraced the competition."
The four starters returning from the 2007-08 team are Amy Bratvold, Jessica Huntington, Julie Piper and Nicole Scott.
Other letterwinners coming back are Kyla Evans, Ashley Knight, Morgan Rulon and Tatjana Sparavalo. Of this group, a couple has significant starting experience (Evans started eight games last year and Sparavalo six, all in Big Sky play).
The six newcomers on the team include Cameryn Calhoun, Chene Cooper, Pauline Ferrall, Breauna Russell, Brianne Ryan and Meaghan White.
The entire group of players is determined to make some noise during league play, qualify for the Big Sky Championship and make a run for the league crown.
Playing at the guard position for Eastern are Huntington, Cooper, Rulon, Russell, Calhoun, Evans, Sparavalo and Ryan.
Huntington averaged 5.36 assists per game last year, the fourth-highest average in the Big Sky and 25th among all NCAA Division I players.
"Jessica has played in quite a few games for us over the course of the last two years," Schuller said. "She has grown as a player and had a real good off-season in terms of shooting the ball, something we have asked her to step up and do more. She is being more aggressive offensively and gives us a good floor general with her experience."
Cooper helped lead her Lakes High School (Lakewood, Wash.) squad to a fourth-place finish at the 3A state tournament as a senior in 2008.
"Chene is a solid point guard," Schuller said. "We have been pleased with her early on. She understands the game and is a competitor; she is tough and does not back down."
Last year, Rulon's highlights included her nailing threes against Montana Tech as well as Marist, a team that has won games at the last two NCAA Tournaments.
"Morgan is back as a senior," Schuller said. "She is our leader by example in that she goes as hard as she can every single second, every single day. She's a tough, physical player who plays hard. She also has the ability to play the point for us."
Russell helped lead Washington High School (Phoenix, Ariz.) to three straight 4A state championships.
"Breauna is another freshman who is a raw point guard with quickness and the ability to get to the rim and make plays," Schuller said. "She can put tremendous pressure on the ball, something we really like to do, and is quick."
Calhoun earned honorable mention 6A All-State and first team All-Three Rivers League accolades in Oregon last year.
"Cameryn is a player who I see playing both the 1 and the 2 for us," Schuller said. "She has the ability to get to the rim as good as any perimeter player we have had in a long time. She also has a nice pull-up jumper. I just like the way she plays; she flies around and does not care about sacrificing her body. She is a hard-nosed, tough kid."
Evans shot lights out from three-point range last year, shooting at a 41.3 percent clip from behind the arc (would have ranked her 24th nationally if she had played in 75 percent of EWU's games, but a foot injury kept her out of 11 contests).
"Kyla is back after a pretty stellar freshman year," Schuller said. "She had a chance to be Big Sky Freshman of the Year until she suffered a foot injury. She is as good a three-point shooter as we have ever had at Eastern, and we expect her to pick up right where she left off. She's also much stronger after a good year in the program."
Sparavalo jump-started her 2007-08 campaign when she nailed 9-of-11 shots in the second half of the contest at Pacific on Dec. 21, scoring 23 points in the process. She also had an Eagle season-high 24 points at Idaho State on Feb. 16.
"Tatjana had some stellar games for us last year," Schuller said. "She just knows how to put the ball in the hole. And she has a European flair to her game; sometimes she will pass it when nobody thinks a pass is coming. She shoots the three well, has a great pull-up jumper and has worked hard to be a better defender for us. Tatjana has a chance to help us quite a bit this year."
Ryan was named Associated Press 1A State Player of the Year after helping lead her Lynden Christian High School squad to a state title as a senior.
"Brianne is another freshman we are happy with," Schuller said. "She is very athletic and can shoot the three. She also runs the floor hard and has gotten a really good grasp early of what we want to do defensively and how we want to play. She is a tough competitor who won a lot of games in high school and is a straight winner."
Eagle forwards in 2008-09 include Bratvold, Knight, Piper, Ferrall, Scott and White.
Bratvold recorded double-digit point totals nine times last year with a high of 18 coming against Idaho State on Jan. 10.
"Amy has played a lot of 3 for us and will play there as well as at the 4," Schuller said. "She can defend inside and also gives us a nice post who can step out and shoot it. Amy had a solid season last year, and we're excited about her stepping up as a senior, being more aggressive and assuming more of a leadership role."
Knight has been an Eagle the longest of any player on the roster, as she first saw game action with the 2004-05 team.
"Ashley returns after having a redshirt year this past season," Schuller said. "She is a player who knows how to get things done and has a nice touch on the perimeter. She's also extremely strong inside and is someone who will throw their body around and do whatever it takes. She has worked really hard in preparation of this season."
Piper played well during conference season, starting all 16 league contests and averaging 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per conference game.
"Julie was an impact kid as a freshman last year," Schuller said. "She plays hard every possession and flies around. It is fun to see her get up and down the floor, and you know that every time a shot goes up there is going to be one of her long arms going after the ball. She has worked really hard in the offseason on her perimeter game and on being able to shoot a 16-foot jumper on a consistent basis."
Ferrall was named Co-Most Valuable Player of the Mission Trail Athletic League, both as a junior and as a senior.
"Pauline is a player who just has a knack for scoring," Schuller said. "She finds ways to get open, to get shots, and has done a good job learning our offense and defense and what we want her to do. When she's at ease and going at full speed, she will have a chance to be a real special post."
Scott is an imposing force inside, but also has the ability to step outside and shoot the three. Against Portland State on March 1, she nailed 5-of-8 shots from three-point range. She also had five blocks apiece in three of her final five games of 2007-08.
"Nicole has played a lot of minutes for us her first two years, and we expect her to be able to step in and be an impact player for us," Schuller said. "She has the unique ability to shoot it from distance and to play with her back to the basket. The biggest thing we would like to see out of Nicole is to see her take the ball stronger to the hoop and get to the free throw line more often. I expect her to have a solid year for us."
White helped lead Jesuit High School to a 6A Oregon state runner-up performance and earned first team All-Metro League accolades as a junior before attaining second team accolades as a senior.
"We really like the way Meaghan shoots the ball," Schuller said. "She steps out and has a beautiful stroke on the perimeter, but also has size, and we see her playing the 4 for us quite a bit in the future. She understands the game well, has some real basketball savvy and fits in well with our other big kids."
The Eagles have a nice, balanced non-conference schedule in 2008-09 to help the team prepare for the most important time of the year, the Big Sky season.
Highlights includes two trips to the state of Nevada, first for a season-opening contest against the Nevada Wolf Pack on Nov. 14 and then, two weeks later, for the Lady Rebel Round-Up from Nov. 28-29. That tournament will see Eastern Washington take on host UNLV before facing either Georgia or Cal State Fullerton.
The home opener will be on Nov. 21 against San Francisco, and the Eagles will host this year's rivalry contest with Gonzaga on Dec. 4. The last time the two met on the EWU campus on Dec. 9, 2006, Eastern Washington fell just short in a 103-102 overtime thriller. It marked just the sixth time EWU has ever reached triple digits and third time Gonzaga has. Neither team has done so since.
"I really like our schedule," Schuller said. "We have a nice mix of road and home games and have several teams on it who had good seasons last year. We know we are going to have to step up and play well. It is also a schedule that prepares us for Big Sky play, our main goal when we put this schedule together. We will be playing teams who are similar to what we see in our own league."
As for the Big Sky, Montana is the defending league champion and predicted by most prognosticators to take home this year's crown. The Lady Griz returns four starters from that year's squad, including three-time honorable mention Kodak All-American Mandy Morales. Eastern Washington hosts Montana on Jan. 31 and travels to Missoula on March 5.
"Montana is very talented and should be very good this year," Schuller said. "Beyond them, I know that Portland State is picked near the top of the league and have a lot of players back, including Claire Faucher, one of the top point guards in the country. Montana State was solid last year and has quite a few players back. After that, you have a lot of teams with some big personnel losses from last year.
"The Big Sky is going to be interesting, and we are working extremely hard to get ourselves into the hunt."
And the Honors Go To ...
Eastern Washington as a team was once again honored over the summer, being named to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 Honor Roll.
It marked the seventh consecutive season the Eagles had ranked 10th or higher in the rankings. That span included a No. 1 ranking in 2003-04.
Eagles Picked Ninth
Eastern Washington was picked ninth in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls.
The two polls were nearly identical. Both picked Montana to win the title, and the Grizzlies were followed, in order, by Portland State, Montana State, Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona, Weber State/Idaho State (WSU was sixth in the coaches poll and seventh in the media poll, while ISU was seventh and sixth, respectively), Sacramento State and the Eagles.