Information about Eastern Washington women’s basketball from way back when – that being the days the Eagles transitioned to Division I – is sometimes hard to come by, but in 1978-79 Bill Smithpeter’s team set a school record with 28 wins.
Right in the middle was freshman Maria Loos.
“The person playing in front of me, she was married, got pregnant and had to quit,” Loos, now Lefler, said. “I just happened to fall right into her starting spot as a freshman. I always think that was partly lucky.
“I got a lot of playing time; I was really fortunate. I was fortunate to play with good people.”
Lefler, a 6-foot-2½ post, averaged 12 rebounds a game as the Eagles advanced to the AIAW national tournament and finished with a 28-9 record.
It was the start of a terrific career for the small-town girl out of Royal City, Wash.
Eastern followed with records of 26-22, 11-18 and 19-9, the last year before joining the Mountain West Conference.
The Loos name is all over the EWU record book, most notably under rebounding, where she is far and away No. 1 on the career list with 1,407 (second is 1,045), including an amazing 27 in one game. She is also third in career scoring at 1,346 and second in blocked shots at 230.
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and meet the right people,” said Lefler, a member of the EWU Hall of Fame. “I went to camp at Eastern when I was in high school so I knew the campus. Then I got recruited by Smithpeters.”
Her numbers could have been even more impressive if not for surgery because she tore ankle ligaments in January of her sophomore season.
“You have to be strong to support teammates when its not going great for you,” she said. “That’s what’s so great about basketball, it’s a team sport; you have to rely on other people. I learned a lot, but it was painful.”
Though it was a winding road, Lefler has been back in Royal City for almost 20 years teaching grade school with three different stints as the high school varsity girls coach for a total of 10 seasons, the last stint ending two years ago.
“I decided to follow my own kids, go to their games,” she said. “I really enjoy coaching but high school coaching really takes a lot of time, a lot of time away from my own family. It’s really hard. I enjoy watching my own kids. There’s nothing better.”
Lefler graduated in 1982 and went to work for the Boys and Girls Clubs in Seattle when Smithpeters hooked her up with a professional team in Australia.
After a season, she returned to Seattle, and while working on her teaching certificate at the University of Washington she played ratball with the likes of former Huskies Detlef Schremp and Christian Welp and toured with an AAU team, playing exhibitions against colleges.
Then former teammate Lisa Comstock Schultz hooked her up in Germany, where she played two seasons.
“When you’re an export player like I was you’re doing basketball every single day,” she recalled. “If you’re not playing, you’re coaching; that was my job, or working camps.”
When she suffered a broken finger she started to think about the future.
“You need a big support system, like my parents storing all my things,” Lefler said. “I’m 28 (then) and they’re still wondering if I’m going to get a job.”
After using a Europass for one last adventure she returned home and began substitute teaching. That’s when she got reacquainted with Rex Lefler and got a job in Moses Lake, which included coaching the girls junior varsity team.
They were married in 1989 and jumped at the chance to return to Royal City, which allowed Rex to return to his love of farming.
“Together it made for a good combination,” she said. “I had summer off and he kind of slowed down in the winter.”
He was a big supporter of the basketball coach, but “he would not sit by the parents, I’ll tell you that for sure,” the coaching wife said.
Along the way, three boys came: Ryan, now 17 and a senior; freshman Reed, 15; and seventh-grader Riley, 12.
“Right now I’m watching game film with (Riley),” she said. “His dream is to play at Gonzaga.”
Only Ryan, who will attend Western Washington, eschewed basketball, instead running cross country and track. Reed plays for the Royal JV.
“I love watching them compete, work hard, reach their goals,” Lefler said. “It’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut. … I get kind of nervous for them; excited for them. I just love that game and they know I do.”
A coaching highlight was getting Royal to the State B tournament in Spokane in 1992 and finishing seventh, though it was a challenge.
“I was pregnant and had (Ryan) the week before districts,” she said. “I’m not sure I’d do that again.”
Lefler, who turns 50 next year, continues to work camps, helps with grade school boys, and will tutor posts when asked.
“I still love to go out and play half-court,” she said. “I’m hoping to get the kids to do Hoopfest. We haven’t done that yet.”