When Eastern Washington University’s diminutive point guard Chene Cooper this year became the women’s basketball all-time assist leader at the school, she broke a record that had stood for more than a quarter century.
The 27-year-old mark, set by Lisa Comstock between 1982 and 1985, is remarkable considering its length. Women’s basketball has improved exponentially since those early days of Title IX that mandated equal opportunity for women athletes.
Given the significance of Cooper’s achievement, it seemed logical to catch up with the original record holder.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know the record was still out there until my brother-in-law called,” said the EWU Hall of Fame athlete married since 1990 to Esmeralda Golf Course club professional Rex Schultz. “You assume the records will be broken, the caliber of athletes is so much stronger.”
Lisa Schultz, who was ahead of her time, has never strayed far from her area roots or sports.
Her greatest successes, apart from being an Eagles basketball standout, came as a coach. She started the basketball program from scratch at Lakeside High in Nine Mile Falls, and built the Eagles girls into a Class 1A state power.
Schultz had become a standout golfer at about the same time she gravitated into teaching and coaching at the urging of coaches for whom she had played and assisted.
She still teaches physical education at Lakeside, but left coaching in 2003 with a 252-55 overall record, nine successive seasons of 21 wins or more and eight state placings, including two 1A state titles.
“I enjoyed what I was doing,” she said, “but with all the time and energy you put into it, you start to realize you’re missing a lot of stuff. I wanted to spend more time with my (extended) family.”
Today her focus is on recreational outdoor activities.
Schultz grew up in the Spokane Valley, graduating from West Valley (the Eagles, naturally) where she starred in four sports.
Initially, the focus was volleyball and softball. A latecomer to basketball, she became enthralled and obsessed.
“I had lots of good coaches and put in a ton of time,” Schultz said.
One of those coaches was Bill Smithpeters, her fellow Eastern Hall of Famer whose teams won 290 games from1977 through 1994. Included were trips to the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) tournaments and, when women were included, to NCAA Division I national tournaments.
Smithpeters had coached boys basketball at Mead. When the school district levy failed in 1972 it cost the Panthers a year of athletics. Uncertainty there hastened his move to Eastern.
Initially, he said, “we judged a player on whether she could make layins off a dribble. The game progressed from there.”
Smithpeters, now 81 and admitting his memory is hazy, said, “I’m not sure I could tell you how I found Lisa. In those days when she was in high school recruiting wasn’t heavy.”
Schultz was a student of the game, watching and emulating how the men played, Smithpeters said.
“My (recollection) is that she played differently than the way girls were playing. She was just ahead of the game. Her play was uptempo. She’d do things quickly and put pressure on (opposition) guards.”
The record speaks for itself. Entering this season, Schultz’s name remained prominent in the record book. The four-year starter was fourth or higher on most Eagles women’s single-season records, including a 35-point game, first in free throws made (129), second in assists (189) and third in free throw percentage (.827) and steals (60).
For her career, she was first in free throw percentage (.759), steals (212) and, until Cooper broke it this year, assists (548). She scored 1,338 career points (fourth) and was third in both free throws made and attempted (310 for 405).
Schultz could have played overseas, she said, but after putting in 14 years told herself, “I think I’m done. I need a change.”
She then put her sports passion into golf, introduced to her by her father, Larry.
“I had a 4-handicap for a while and qualified for three national Women’s Amateur Publinx tournaments,” Schultz said.
The new Lakeside High had only ninth graders when she was hired. The time commitment meant an adieu to competitive golf if she were to build a basketball power.
She said she misses coaching, particularly the beginning of a season when evaluating players and setting goals; and the end of the season when postseason games provide a chance for them to enjoy the rewards of their improvement.
But she doesn’t envision a return.
“It’s interesting how you get talked into something and it becomes a huge part of your life,” said Schultz of her playing and coaching careers. “You look back and say ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’”
Stepping down has allowed more time for hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking and cross-country skiing.
The four-sport high school letter winner, Eastern record setter, outstanding high school basketball coach and talented golfer, is entitled to kick back a bit and relax.