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Mass exodus occurs for EWU women’s basketball

Coming off most successful season in her 14 years at EWU, coach Wendy Schuller finds her handling of her team under fire. (Jesse Tinsley)
Coming off most successful season in her 14 years at EWU, coach Wendy Schuller finds her handling of her team under fire. (Jesse Tinsley)

If the Eastern Washington women’s basketball team had to play a game today, the Eagles could only suit up five players.

Following a 21-win season and EWU’s first postseason win, five players – including former Mead star and starting point guard Jade Redmon – have decided to leave the program. And, a sixth player has decided not to use her final year of eligibility.

In addition, Eastern lost a seventh player, 6-foot-4 junior forward Hanna Mack, who decided not to play prior to the beginning of last season.

The players who agreed to talk with The Spokesman-Review blamed coach Wendy Schuller for all or part of their reasons for leaving.

“I wasn’t happy here,” Redmon said this week. “I didn’t really like the coaching style, so I figure I might as well go somewhere else.”

Kiana Brown, a reserve freshman guard from Triangle Lake, Oregon, said Schuller kicked her off the team prior to the Eagles’ final game and pulled her scholarship after Brown mentioned to the coach that she was considering a transfer.

“As soon as I voiced my concerns, I was ostracized,” Brown said. “It wasn’t, ‘How can we fix this?’ It was, ‘OK, you are done then.’ ”

Schuller said each of the reasons for the players leaving was different. Some of them wanted to be closer to home and others weren’t happy with the minutes they were getting on the court.

“In terms of the young ladies who don’t like my coaching style, I guess that’s why they are leaving. I don’t know what to say about that,” Schuller said. “We had a lot of success doing what I do. I try to treat my players like young women.

“If they don’t feel like it was a great place, maybe it’s good they are moving on.”

Athletic director Bill Chaves said he was aware of the exodus from the team, but he said the discussion of the departures must be framed around the completion of arguably the best season in the 33-year history of the program.

The Eagles finished 21-12, lost a buzzer beater to Gonzaga early in the year and upset Washington State 67-65 in the first round of the WNIT.

“Certainly we are always concerned about what is transpiring,” Chaves said. “Eastern women’s basketball may not be for everyone. If someone thinks there’s a better opportunity somewhere else, we certainly thank them for the time that they were here.”

Asked if thanking players included kicking them off the team and pulling their scholarships, Chaves said he wouldn’t talk about internal matters.

“I would suggest there are probably multiple conversations that may have occurred” regarding the Kiana Brown departure, he said. “I think each situation is its own. I certainly would never get into specifics that get into the details of an employee or student athlete.”

Schuller, who just completed her 14th year in Cheney, said she has several visits from recruits scheduled for the next few weeks.

“By the time we get to June, I expect we’ll have a full roster again,” she said.

Asked how she thinks her new team will fare with all the turnover, Schuller said she’s not worried.

“I know we’ll be competitive,” she said. “The bottom line is we have a great group of young ladies who want to work and be here and are proud to be Eagles. I’m excited, and my staff is excited, about moving forward with these” five players.

Locked out

Two of the departing players said one of the turning points of the season came during a losing streak in January. The Eagles lost at home to Sacramento State before losing on the road at Northern Colorado, North Dakota and Idaho.

When the players returned to Cheney, “we got our locker room taken away for a couple weeks,” Redmon said. Coaches “thought it was a privilege and we didn’t deserve to have that privilege.”

Brown said the locker room lockout made her start to question whether she wanted to stay.

“From there on … we were pretty successful,” Brown said of the team that won six straight games. “But a lot of things happen behind closed doors. You could tell the relationship between the team and the coaches took a turn for the worse.”

Redmon agreed. The true sophomore played most of the season with a hurt shoulder and recently underwent reconstructive surgery that will probably keep her from playing early next season even if she didn’t have to sit out a year. Redmon, whose older sister Jazmine Redmon played at Gonzaga, said she has not yet decided where to transfer.

“Again, we had one of the best seasons ever here and it didn’t feel like that at all,” Redmon said. “There was a lot of negativity and lack of communication. That is what did it in for me.”

Exodus

After losing seniors Lexie Nelson (14 points, 1.9 rebounds) and Melissa Williams (10.3 points, 9.5 rebounds), and now Redmon, the Eagles only have sisters Delaney and Haley Hodgins returning as starters.

Those underclassmen leaving the program are 5-11 sophomore forward Cece Pearl; 6-2 sophomore center Marly Anderson; 5-11 freshman forward Haley Shaner, and Brown, a 5-8 freshman guard.

Anderson is transferring to UC Davis; Shaner is looking at schools in California and Brown will play at Humboldt State.

“I know they are losing some really great plaeyers like Jade and Marley and Cece,” Brown said. “They had so much potential. This is really going to be a blow to the program. I find it strange that so many people have voiced their unhappiness and they are going to look for other options next year, but there hasn’t been anyone looking into the source of the problem.”

Schuller didn’t include Kayleigh Ryan among the departing players. The 5-10 redshirt junior graduated but could have played one more year.

Schuller also said Mack came to her in early September and said she had simply lost interest in playing anymore.

But Mack had enough interest in the game to agree to play for Northwest Christian in Eugene. Her new coach, Heath Alexander, said he’s excited to get a talent like Mack at his NAIA Div. II school.

“She’s excited for a fresh start,” Alexander said. “She gets to play in front of family every night. I know a bunch of kids left (Eastern), but we didn’t get too much into that.”

Pearl is headed to Hawaii Pacific, which just finished 25-5 behind the play of seniors Chenise Peone (Inchelium), Kylie Huerta and second-team All-American Morganne Comstock. All three transferred to Hawaii Pacific after first playing for Schuller in Cheney.

Coach Reid Takatsuka said he spoke to Pearl about transitioning to Hawaii, but not about why she decided to leave Eastern.

“Whatever is going on at Eastern really doesn’t concern me that much,” Takatsuka said. “But whatever is happening, we obviously are benefitting from it.”

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