EWU women picked to top Big Sky in basketball
Eastern tops both preseason polls for first time in Wendy Schuller era
Eastern's Big Sky Freshman of the Year Hayley Hodgins (25) and Aubrey Ashenfelter (32) will be key players for the Eagles this season.
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."
Schuller hopes the selection serves as a motivational piece for her team. "We have high expectations this season," she said. "This team is very instrinsically motivated and isn't content to rest on their laurels."
The Eagles return four starters and nine letter winners from last year's squad that came in third in the Big Sky with a 14-6 mark in conference games.
The 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 defeated 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. Northern Colorado was tabbed third in both polls.
"I'm going to have to sit down with (EWU Football) Coach Baldwin because it's somewhat new territory for us," Schuller joked.
Eastern opens its 2013-14 campaign at home with an exhibition against The Master's College Friday, Nov. 1 at 6 p.m.