November 1, 2007

Eagles Open 2007-08 Exhibition Slate Friday

Nov. 1, 2007

The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team will see live action for the first time in 2007-08 at 7:05 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 2) and on Wednesday (Nov. 7), as Northwest Sports and Central Washington will pay visits to Cheney. Admission is free to each exhibition game.

Northwest Sports will be playing its first game against EWU prior to meeting fellow Big Sky Conference member Montana two days later. Last year, the Eagles earned an 86-80 win over Northwest Sports.

Central Washington is coming off a 17-10 season which saw the Wildcats go 7-9 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play, good for a sixth-place finish. The teams played last in a regular-season contest on Nov. 6, 2005; the Eagles came out victorious, 82-56.

Eastern Washington is coming off a 10-19 season, and the Eagles are determined to return to the Big Sky Conference Championship after missing the tournament last year for the first time after seven straight appearances.

Eastern's regular season begins at home against Montana Tech at 2:05 p.m. on Nov. 11. The Eagles will play its initial three games of the campaign at home, also taking on Nevada on Nov. 15 and Washington State on Nov. 18.

The 2007-08 season preview of the upcoming campaign is below, while the 2007-08 Fact Book is available in PDF format at http://goeags.cstv.com/auto_pdf/p_hotos/s_chools/ewas/sports/w-baskbl/auto_pdf/08WBFactBook

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The 2007-08 Eastern Washington University women's basketball team enters the new season with a sense of energy and positiveness that belies its 10-19 season last year. The Eagles did end the campaign on a good note, winning 3-of-5 contests (with the two losses coming by three points each) and are looking to continue that right into the new season.

Leading the way will be three returning starters: junior guard Katy Baker, junior forward Sydney Benson and sophomore forward Nicole Scott. Sophomore guard Jessica Huntington also found herself in the starting lineup six times in the final 10 games of last season's campaign. Also seeing significant playing time was Kari Darnell.

There will be six newcomers to the team, as well. These include two junior college transfers in forward Amy Bratvold and center Paige McGowan, as well as a quartet of freshmen in guard Kyla Evans, forward Brittany Fiske, forward Julie Piper and guard Tatjana Sparavalo.

Even though the Eagles did finish off the 2006-07 campaign positively, nobody on the team was satisfied with the overall season, especially after the Eagles had previously made seven straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Championship and advanced to the semifinals three times in that span.

"Last year was a learning and growing experience for all of us," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "But we are very excited to get the new season rolling. We're going to focus on the things we can control - defense, rebounding, shot selection and the decisions we make with the basketball. We'll be successful come January if we just focus on the things we can control."

Of the four players the Eagles have coming back with starting experience, two are juniors (Baker, Benson) and two are sophomores (Huntington, Scott).

"They are very experienced players who have been through ups and downs and have gone through a lot," Schuller said. "Katy Baker and Sydney Benson have done a great job stepping up and taking leadership roles and being demanding of their teammates and being caring teammates.

"But we do have young players who are going to press older ones for minutes and for starting jobs. We have youthful energy and enthusiasm and when you combine that with veteran experience, that's a really good combination."

Point Guard

Returning at the point guard position for the Eagles will be Huntington, while Sparavalo will also see time at that position. Last year Huntington played in all 29 games for the Eagles and started six of the final 10 contests. Her 58 assists on the season were second on the team, as was her .442 shooting percentage. Sparavalo, meanwhile, will bring to Cheney international experience, as she has been a member of the Serbian Junior National Team and was one of 15 finalists to make the 12-member team which competed at the World Championships this summer.

"Jessica Huntington obviously has a huge leg up at the point," Schuller said. "She is very steady and has worked extremely hard on her game over the summer. She shoots the three really well and makes good decisions.

"Tatjana Sparavalo is a 6-foot guard who has been very receptive to working at that position and will do a good job. We're very happy with her and the progress she's made."

Perimeter/Wing

The Eagles will have a number of players who will be playing on the outside this year. Baker, a returning starter, had 5.4 rebounds per game last year, the 17th-highest average among Big Sky players. She also hit on 88.5 percent of her free throws (46-of-52) and ended 2006-07 with 23 consecutive makes.

"Katy Baker is going to be a player who will make an impact this year," Schuller said. "She worked extremely hard for us last year and brings a high level of athleticism. We're excited about her."

Bratvold spent the last two years at the College of Southern Idaho, where she earned National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-Region 18 accolades last year after averaging 10 points and six rebounds per contest. She also shot 37.8 percent from beyond the arc that season.

"Amy Bratvold comes from a very good junior college program," Schuller said. "She's 6-1, another long wing who really strokes it. She is a good athlete who knows how to play and understands the game. She will do a very good job for us."

Evans was named All-Caribou League all four years she played at Brewster High School. She also earned Co-MVP accolades for the league as a senior after being the sole honoree her junior season. Evans helped lead BHS to the 1A state tournament as a senior.

"Kyla Evans comes from a great basketball program," Schuller said. "She is a very good three-point shooter who understands the game and understands how to make reads. She will get immediate opportunities as a freshman."

Darnell is a senior on this year's team who contributed throughout the 2006-07 campaign, seeing action in 17 games. She had her best game last year against Corban College, finishing with career-high point and rebound totals of six and five, respectively.

"Kari Darnell will be a senior and will swing at the 3 and 4 positions," Schuller said. "She's a player who simply understands how to play the game."

Another talented freshman is Fiske. The Loveland, Colo., native achieved 4A All-State recognition her junior and senior seasons. She helped lead Berthoud High School to a berth in the 4A state semifinals her senior season.

"Brittany Fiske is a long, athletic player," Schuller said. "She is a good athlete with long arms who rebounds and shoots well. She is going to be a good player for us."

Post

The post will be a strong point for the 2006-07 Eagle squad.

"We feel very good about the post players we have back," Schuller said. "Defensively we are going to be really good inside and will be able to guard just about anybody because of our depth and physical abilities."

Scott saw plenty of time last year off the bench before becoming a staple in the starting lineup, starting the final 11 games of the season. She finished the season with 1.1 blocks per game, good for eighth among Big Sky players, and had double-figure point totals on nine occasions. Scott had 23 points against Montana State on Feb. 1.

"I consider Nicole Scott to be a veteran with as much as she played for us last year," Schuller said. "Nicole not only can play inside and bang with the big players, but it's hard to find a 6-2 player who shoots as well as she can, nice attributes to have."

Benson started all 29 games for Eastern last year, the only returning player to do so. She is also the only returning player to be honored by the Big Sky Conference at the end of the 2006-07 season, as she earned Honorable Mention accolades. Benson had the second-most rebounds per game of any league player with 8.4 and was third in blocks per game with 1.4. She also scored 8.9 points per contest, the 25th-highest scoring average in the league and second on the Eagle squad.

"Sydney Benson's been our leader in the paint," Schuller said. "She has done a phenomenal job and is a great defender who rebounds the ball very well. She puts up good numbers and is a reliable double-double player. Syd is very athletic for a 6-2 player; she can beat anybody down the floor and make things happen."

Piper saw success at Roseburg (Ore.) High School, where she was named All-Southwest Conference her junior and senior seasons. She averaged 13 points per game as a senior.

"Julie Piper is a freshman who is one of those players who makes things happen," Schuller said "Because she's so athletic, she has the ability to get some balls that other players don't normally get. She plays very hard and is another one who will have immediate opportunities and can help us win some games."

McGowan is Eastern's other junior college transfer, as she played the last two years at North Idaho College. Last year, she averaged 6.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. She also had 1.2 steals per contest.

"Paige McGowan was a late signee for us, someone who has only been playing basketball since her sophomore year in high school," Schuller said. "She's 6-3 and as big a post as any I've ever been around - when you ask her to get big and ask for the ball, she just gets huge and does a great job. She brings us some really nice depth inside, rebounds well and is a good defender."

Schedule/Big Sky Conference

The Eagles will play a challenging non-conference slate before entering Big Sky play. The highlight of that portion of the schedule is a trip to the Oahu Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii, and a match-up with Marist, a team that advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 last year. The Red Foxes went 29-6 and defeated fourth-seeded Ohio State and Middle Tennessee in postseason play before falling to eventual national champion Tennessee.

Another highlight to the non-conference season will be Spokane-area rival Gonzaga. The Bulldogs went 24-10 last year and won the West Coast Conference regular-season and postseason titles on their way to the NCAA Tournament before falling to Middle Tennessee.

"Our schedule sets up well to get us ready for Big Sky play," Schuller said. "The league is going to be good and we have to be ready. We are going to take those non-conference games and work hard and get better every single night, so when January rolls around, we're a good basketball team."

In the Big Sky Conference, Montana is coming off an outstanding year. The Lady Griz went 27-4 overall, 15-1 in Big Sky play. Unfortunately for Montana, the team ended the season on a two-game losing streak, falling in the Big Sky semifinals to Northern Arizona and the WNIT First Round to Utah. The team returns all five starters and 10-of-11 letterwinners from that squad. The Grizzlies were selected first in both the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches poll and the media poll.

Meanwhile, Idaho State won the league tournament and earned the Big Sky's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Bengals also return much of their team, including 4-of-5 starters and 8-of-9 letterwinners. Idaho State was picked second in both of the league's preseason polls (Eastern Washington placed seventh in each).

"The league will be pretty interesting," Schuller said. "We've got two teams that are known entities in Idaho State and Montana. They both had great years last year and have their core players back. After that, it gets real interesting; you have a lot of teams that graduated some players and had some big losses.

"Big Sky basketball is very good. The level of play is very high, top-notch basketball. It's competitive night in and night out, no matter who you're playing and no matter where you're playing."

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