When one loses a league MVP and a floor general point guard it might be cause for panic.
But for Eastern Washington University’s women’s basketball coach Wendy Schuller she’s turning her attention inward for new identity and a hoped-for path to success.
That’s inside as in the paint.
“We lost two players that made an impact for our team, not just the scoring piece, the statistical piece but just the energy they brought, knowledge of the game and the system,” Schuller said of Brianne Ryan and Chene Cooper. “There are so many things they brought that were just intangibles.”
So Schuller said she, her staff and team will work to create a new identity with the return of three starters and six other letterwinners from the 2011-12 squad that finished 16-14 overall and 10-6 in Big Sky play.
The loss of Ryan and Cooper are not just big on the floor, but on paper, too.
Ryan was the 2012 Big Sky MVP and two-time unanimous All-Big Sky First-Team selection as well as the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Cooper, an All-Big Sky Second-Team pick ranked among the top six point guards in the nation for assists and top 25 in steals.
“We’re trying to create a new identity and define ourselves in a new and different way,” Schuller said. “We’re not changing a lot, we’re going to have to score in different ways.”
Big kids are going to be impact players for us, Schuller said. “We’ve got Carrie Ojeda, Melissa Williams and Laura Hughes – all players who I think are solid – I think they’re coming into their own now.”
Sophomore forward Morganne Comstock should add additional depth. “Morganne is an interesting case because this is actually her third year in the program,” Schuller said. "She redshirted as a freshman and then coming off hip surgery last year, she was never physically where she needed to be to play significant minutes.”
In the past Eastern did not need to get the ball inside as much, but Schuller sees that part of the game evolving to where not only can they score, but it opens up the outside game as well.
“It will open things up for shooters like Chenise (Pakootas); I think Aubrey (Ashenfelter) will step up, she’s got a ton of experience,” Schuller said. Montana transfer Lexi Nelson has been solid and “I think she’s going to be a good player,” Schuller said.
Schuller sees her team more like the one that won the 2010 Big Sky championship. “On any given night it could be a different player.”
Having a Ryan and a Cooper there’s a sense of security, Schuller said, “Knowing who it’s going to be every single night.”
Schuller’s 2012-13 team will be one where scoring is done by committee and anybody can be your leading scorer is harder to defend. “Last year they would focus on two kids and that was it,” Schuller explained. “Now you don’t know if there’s going to be a particular person to focus on.” But if the opponents do that, Schuller is confident someone else can and will emerge.
“Ryan was a big loss but Cooper was maybe bigger just because she was the point-guard, Schuller said. “She ran the show, she basically let the team know this is how you need to do things.”
“Between Kylie Huerta and Lexi Nelson we’re getting that figured out,” Schuller said. “Lexie gives us more of a scoring point guard.” Huerta “Is a phenomenal passer. Her court vision is tremendous,” Schuller said. “
The Eastern women will certainly be battle-tested by the time by the time home fans get to take a good look at the team, playing seven road games before a Dec. 29 non-league game with Warner Pacific.
Big Sky play begins with games at Reese Court Jan. 3 versus Montana and Jan. 5 with Montana State.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.