Wendy Schuller believed from the first day of practice this could be a special season for the Eastern Washington basketball team.
She also knew it could be a long season.
The two things aren’t necessarily related, but it’s hard not to put the two things together now that the Eagles are Big Sky Conference champions and hosting the conference tournament.
About the time practice started, Schuller, named Coach of the Year on Tuesday, found out she was expecting her third child.
“I knew it could be a long season, in terms of me getting a little tired,” she said. “I didn’t know it was going to be a special season because of that.”
Wendy, who is due in June, and husband Mark have a son, Rory, 9, and a daughter, Megan, 6.
“I’m so fortunate to have the support system I have at home with my husband and my kids,” Schuller said. “Then I come to work my assistants bend over backward to do everything they possibly can to make my life easier.
“It’s made it so I can focus on the really specific things I needed to and haven’t had to worry about a lot of the little things. They’ve just taken care of it for me. It’s been nice.”
Maybe it has had an effect on the court.
“I don’t know if it’s put pressure on them to not get my blood pressure up or whatever it might be,” she said. “They’ve been great. They’re a great group of sisters, aunts, baby sitters to my kids. They were excited there was going to be a new member of my team.”
With the Big Sky race going down to the final weekend, Schuller hasn’t had much opportunity to consider what kind of effect there might be on her program.
“I’ve probably been too focused on what we’re doing now,” she said. “We still have business in front of us that needs to be taken care.
“Off the top of my head, our lifeblood is recruiting and I hope we can carry this over into our recruiting, especially in this area. We’ve worked hard trying to get some Spokane and area players over the last several years and haven’t had a lot of luck. We had to go outside the region to get players we felt we could win a championship with. We feel like there are a lot of players in this area we can win with.
“If we can get some of those players to stay home, we can be successful with them.”
Third time a curse?
Arizona coach Niya Butts is concerned about the Wildcats’ matchup against Washington State in the Pac-10 tournament Thursday night.
“Playing a team three times, winning that game is going to be difficult,” she said. “They do a good job at Washington State, they are playing a lot better. They have players that are confident and any time you have players that are confident they’re dangerous because they also have players that can put points on the board.”
The Cougars lost 67-60 at Arizona and then 73-66 at home, but in the second half of the season, when WSU won its three conference games, two have come on the road.
“It seems like we play better on the road than we have at home at times this season,” Cougars coach June Daugherty said. “I credit the staff, they’ve worked hard and stayed positive with this group. We’ve seen the improvement. We know how talented they are, they just needed time and experience, especially in the Pac-10.”
It came together last Thursday when WSU held Oregon to 30 points less than its season average in a 67-53 win.
“Nothing about this group surprises me any more,” Daugherty said. “They’ve done some incredible things. They continue to come together and grow. The key to all the victories of late has been our defensive identity. We’ve embraced that we want to be a great defensive team.”
Now the challenge is to do it again.
Idaho senior Charlotte Otero needs two assists in the Vandals’ game against New Mexico State in the WAC tournament today for 370, which will put her in the school’s top 10. … Freshman Carly Noyes had two blocked shots last Saturday to set a Washington State record with 56 for the season. Holly Zapel had 55 blocks in 1984-85. … Tonya Schnibbe (University High) wrapped up her career at Weber State with a team-high 15 points in a loss to Sacramento State. She finished with 574 career assists – sixth in Big Sky Conference history. … Heidi Heintz (Central Valley) scored 10 points to help UC Davis defeat Fullerton for its first 20-win season in more than a decade. … Junior Dara Zack (U-Hi) ended the season for Saint Martin’s as the leader in scoring (16.1), rebounds (8.7), assists (78) and steals (38).