Oregon senior forward Oti Gildon is the rare Spokane product to reach the NCAA women’s Final Four, which begins Friday when the No. 2-seeded Ducks face top-seeded Baylor in Tampa, Florida.
But she’s certainly not the first.
Kari Hutchinson (now Kari Mueller), a former St. George’s phenom who went on to Notre Dame, reached the Final Four in 1997.
Mueller – a 6-foot guard who averaged about 18 minutes a game – and the Fighting Irish lost to eventual national champion Tennessee, which won the fifth of its eight titles under the late Pat Summitt.
“It was big-time, getting escorted by police motorcycles through the streets of Cincinnati,” Mueller, a Boise resident, recalled in a 2008 interview with The Spokesman-Review. “The commotion around the whole event, it happened so fast. It was kind of surreal being there.”
A decade later, Tennessee had a young, crafty guard from Spokane on its national championship team.
Former University High star Angie Bjorklund was a freshman in 2008 when the Volunteers won the national title. She averaged 8.4 points that season and started 30 games.
“Winning a national championship is something you hang on to forever,” said Bjorklund, currently playing professionally in France.
Bjorklund’s Vols defeated Stanford 64-48 in the 2008 national title game, a decade after Stanford went to the Final Four with a former Mead star on its roster.
Regan Freuen Drew experienced three straight Final Fours (1995-97) at Stanford, but was on the bench in the 1997 semifinal due to a medical redshirt. She still lives in Spokane.
Earlier this week, two more Stanford products from the Spokane area – freshman guards Lexie and Lacie Hull from Central Valley – came up a game short of the Final Four, falling to 84-68 to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.
In 2007, an Arizona State team led by Spokane-area talent also came up a game short of the Final Four. Emily Westerberg and Reagan Pariseau (Central Valley), Briann January (Lewis and Clark) and Aubree Johnson (Post Falls) fell to eventual national runner-up Rutgers in the Elite Eight.
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