The first thought that comes to mind when watching Eastern Washington point guard Jessica Huntington is “steady Eddie.”
The numbers seem to concur.
The senior from East Valley (Yakima) was thrown into the fray as a freshman. The Eagles’ only point guard as a sophomore, Huntington quietly amassed 150 assists, seventh on the school single-season list, with an average of 5.36 per game, which was 25th nationally and her 1.76 assists-to-turnover ratio was 46th nationally. Last year she was 23rd in the nation with a 1.85 ratio.
“That’s a great way to put it,” EWU coach Wendy Schuller said. “Over the course of her career that’s the way she’s been, very steady. Night in and night out she works hard, she always does the things we ask. She works as hard as any player I’ve had in offseason. She’s just a great kid to coach because of the great effort she puts forth.”
The Eagles have given Huntington just as much in return.
“I had a lot of learning to do, lot of growing up to do,” she said. “As a sophomore, as the only point guard, I had to learn to communicate with teammates better, how to control my temper. I know it’s better for my teammates, especially as a point guard, if I remain cool … everyone looks to me.”
The one thing Eastern hasn’t done is win, missing the Big Sky Conference tournament every year after a six-year run. That could change this year, in no small part because of Huntington, who was on four state trophy teams in high school, including a championship as a freshman.
“The great thing with her is she’s taken a step forward as a player,” Schuller said, pointing particularly to an improved shot. “Coming into this year we told her she’s shooting the 3 well, now she has to shoot it more often. She’s hunting her shots … she’s stepped out of her comfort zone and is getting (inside).
“She’s become a complete player. She’s always defended hard, she’s always handled it. She makes us a better team.”
Another reason for optimism is continuity, Huntington said.
“Everyone stuck around, no one left, no one gave up on us,” she said. “Every year we’re building something good and someone left. Our maturity is going to get us where we want to go.”
Huntington and Nicole Scott are the only two seniors, the only two survivors out of a big recruiting class. She could only speculate why, though the thought of giving up never entered her mind.
“The fact they didn’t want to put in the hard work to get where we wanted to go,” she guessed. “I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that’s the main reason.
“I’m not a quitter, I never have been. If I get in a situation that’s not as good as I want it to be, I want to be one of those people that get us out of it.”
Washington State opens Pac-10 play at Oregon State and Oregon.
The Beavers and Ducks, both picked to finish behind the Cougs, have put together good records but haven’t played a particularly tough schedule.
Overall, after second-ranked Stanford (9-1), the conference hasn’t done a lot to distinguish itself, which is reason for optimism and concern. Arizona State (7-3) is ranked 19th but is 1-3 against ranked teams.
“I thought on paper, because of the recruiting everybody did, the people who finished in the second tier of the Pac-10 are going to be way stronger this year, which I think makes a better overall conference,” WSU coach June Daugherty said. “We were able to get out of the basement last year. We want to keep making that climb.”
To prepare, the Cougars have strengthened their schedule.