Eastern found itself atop both preseason polls for first time in Wendy Schuller era
After winning a program-record 14 league games and advancing to the WNIT for the second time in school history a year ago, Big Sky coaches and media members have tabbed the Eastern Washington women's basketball team first in the Big Sky Preseason Polls, announced by the conference office Wednesday, Oct. 16.
EWU's previous best preseason ranking under head coach Wendy Schuller came prior to the 2010-11 season when the Eagles were picked to finish second in both polls.
Eastern received six first-place votes out of a possible nine in the coaches poll and 20 first-place votes out of a possible 30 in the media poll.
"It's nice that people think highly of us," Schuller said. "I approach it with the same mindset I've always had, being that it doesn't matter where you start, it matters where you finish. I hope it serves as a motivational piece for our team in terms of understanding that we have high expectations this season. This team is very instrinsically motivated and isn't content to rest on their laurels. We just need to continue to put the work in in order to make the poll accurate at the end of the year."
The Eagles return four starters and nine letter winners from last year's squad that came in third in the Big Sky standings with a 14-6 mark in conference games. Highlighting a long list of talented returners are junior guard Lexie Nelson, who earned First Team All-Big Sky honors last season, and sophomore forward Hayley Hodgins, Eastern's first recipient of the Big Sky Freshman of the Year Award in 20 years.
EWU won nine of its first 12 league games a year ago before ending the year on a three-game winning streak heading into the conference tournament. Eastern flew by Montana State in the first round before falling in overtime to Northern Colorado in the semifinals. Seeded against PAC-12 member Washington in the first round of the WNIT, the Eagles lost a heartbreaker in double overtime, 65-60, in Seattle.
Junior guard Kylie Huerta, who started the final 17 games last year at the point guard position, will team up with Nelson to form one of the most experienced backcourts in the league. Senior forward Aubrey Ashenfelter, junior forward Melissa Williams and senior center Laura Hughes give the Eagles plenty of experience inside as all three played extensive minutes last season.
Montana, who won both the Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles a year ago, was picked second in both polls, receiving three first-place votes from the coaches and two from the media. Northern Colorado was tabbed third in both polls, receiving a pair of first-place votes from the coaches and four from the media. Montana State and Idaho State rounded out the top five, with the Bengals snagging four first-place votes from the media.
"I'm going to have to sit down with (EWU Football) Coach Baldwin because it's somewhat new territory for us," Schuller joked. "In all seriousness, the thing that makes me feel pleased is that it's nice our program is in that place now. I've got a staff that's worked extremely hard to get us in this position, and players that have worked hard, and players that came before and helped build the foundation. Now it's our job to earn it."
Eastern opens its 2013-14 campaign at home with an exhibition against The Master's College on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m.
2013-14 Big Sky Preseason Poll
|1.||Eastern Washington (6)||94|
|3.||Northern Colorado (2)||81|
|1.||Eastern Washington (20)||308|
|3.||Northern Colorado (4)||268|
|5.||Idaho State (4)||208|