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Who’s next? Eastern Washington to begin searching for new women’s basketball coach

UPDATED: Fri., April 16, 2021

It’s been more than two weeks since Eastern Washington parted ways with longtime women’s basketball coach Wendy Schuller.

Technically, nobody has applied for the Division I vacancy since the firing. The job won’t be officially posted until Monday, the school confirmed.

But EWU athletic director Lynn Hickey has already yielded plenty of interest from coaches spanning the United States and from several levels.

Hickey, a former head women’s basketball coach at Texas A&M and Kansas State, said she hopes to begin interviews late next week.

She believes the Eagles, who haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1987, can be a consistent winner in the Big Sky Conference.

“There’s great opportunity here,” Hickey said. “There’s a lot of really good players in the Northwest. Recruiting those players, developing players like (former EWU men’s basketball coach and current University of Portland coach Shantay Legans) did showed what happened when you do that.”

Whoever inherits the job will have to essentially build an entirely new roster, as eight players have already entered the NCAA transfer portal following a 6-17 season.

Liberty product Maisie Burnham, the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year, signed with Portland, which also brought in several players and coaches from EWU on the men’s side.

This is the first opening for the EWU women’s job since 2001. Schuller posted a 277-322 (166-169 Big Sky) mark in 20 seasons, winning one conference title in 2010.

With a new coach, new roster and other coaching changes across the Big Sky, Hickey believes it could be the dawn of a new era at EWU.

“We really want to establish a culture of a winning tradition here,” she said.

Here’s a list of potential candidates The Spokesman-Review believes may be in the mix.

Christa Sanford, associate head coach, Idaho: Sanford, a former Pullman High and Idaho State star, has been a big part of the Vandals’ success in the Western Athletic Conference and Big Sky in the Jon Newlee era. Sanford has deep Northwest ties and knows the Big Sky as well as anyone.

Laurie Koehn, associate head coach, Washington State: Koehn helped Washington State reach its first NCAA Tournament in 30 years this past season. Before she and head coach Kamie Ethridge made the move to Pullman in 2018, they built a Big Sky Conference winner and NCAA Tournament qualifier at Northern Colorado. Koehn, who played at Kansas State and in the WNBA, is a tireless recruiter who could help give the Eagles an extra boost.

Stacy Clinesmith, assistant coach, Gonzaga: The Mead product and former WNBA player is a veteran assistant at the Division I level and has helped the Bulldogs maintain their status as a West Coast Conference kingpin. Clinesmith’s energy, experience and knowledge of the area’s recruiting scene could boost the Eagles.

Craig Fortier, assistant coach, Gonzaga: Fortier, the husband of Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier, has plenty of Cheney experience. He was the associate head men’s coach under Jim Hayford at EWU from 2011-14, and knows the Big Sky Conference and local recruiting scene.

Michelle Ferenz, head coach, Whitman College: In her 20 years at the Walla Walla school, Ferenz has helped turn Whitman into a NCAA Division III power with a roster dotted with Eastern Washington-raised talent. Her daughter, Mikayla, was one of the best guards in the history of the Big Sky Conference at Idaho before graduating in 2019.

Christy Martin, head coach, Saint Martin’s: Martin, a Ferris graduate with deep ties to the Spokane AAU and high school scene, turned two junior college losers (Blue Mountain and Tacoma community colleges) into winners before she was named head coach at the NCAA Division II Saint Martin’s in 2017. Martin has helped the Saints, who had previously struggled, reach the middle of the pack in a typically loaded Great Northwest Athletic Conference. In early 2020, the Saints beat power Western Washington for the first time in more than two decades.

Brian Orr, head coach, Lewis-Clark State: Could Orr, who has been at LCSC since 2001, be ready to make an upward move? His Warriors are often among the best at the NAIA level and reached the national title game in 2017. Orr, the school’s leader in women’s basketball coaching victories, has won roughly 74% of his games at the Lewiston school, which reached the national tournament last month.

Rachelle Sayers, head coach, Carroll College: Carroll has consistently been a Top 25 NAIA program under Sayers, whose rosters often include several players from Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Sayers has Big Sky Conference experience as an associate head coach at Weber State, where she played in college.

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