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Sports >  High school sports

Maisie Burnham brings skill, ‘winning mentality’ to Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 7, 2021

Maisie Burnham is used to leading her team in scoring. She led the Liberty Lancers to the State 2B championship last season, earning 2B State player of the year in the process.

Now she’s doing it at the next level.

Burnham, a freshman at Eastern Washington, has led the Eagles (3-6, 2-2 Big Sky) in points the last three games, including against Washington State in Pullman and back-to-back road wins over Portland State over the weekend.

It marked the first season sweep for Eastern over PSU (1-3, 0-2) since 2015.

The Eagles started the season with four straight losses but head into a pair of conference games at home against Weber State (0-5, 0-2) Thursday and Saturday with confidence.

Burnham doesn’t feel pressure to score and is just trying to fit in where needed.

“I try not to have expectations coming in because you can get too big of a head or not enough confidence,” she said. “I just tried to come in and mentally adjust to what I thought my role was. We have great players who make great plays in practice and games. I knew I wouldn’t have to do everything.”

She has scored in double digits in five of Eastern’s eight games, though she’s still getting used to not being the default best player on the floor anymore.

“It’s an adjustment, for sure,” she said. “Just because high school is different from college no matter what. I just wanted to embrace my role, whatever it was going to be, learning how to work for my teammates and serve them and do the best I could to win. That’s what I had to dig in and figure out.”

The 2020-21 season is Wendy Schuller’s 20th campaign at the helm for the Eagles. Eastern has advanced to the Big Sky Conference Tournament in 16 of Schuller’s 19 seasons as head coach, including the past nine campaigns, but a tough 2019-20 season saw EWU finish 4-26 overall and 3-17 in the Big Sky.

Schuller sees Burnham’s skill, attitude and history as a winner as a boost to the program.

“Maisie gives us such great effort in everything that she does,” Schuller said. “I love the fact that she just has a great winning mentality, just really unselfish. She just wants to figure out what the team needs. ‘What can I do, what can I bring to the table to help us be successful?’ That’s a pretty big thing.”

Schuller has no hesitancy in deploying Burnham in any scenario.

“Maisie is really versatile. I don’t think everybody fully understands how versatile she is,” she said.

“I have confidence playing her at the 1 through 5. There’s not many of those players in America. That’s a pretty deadly weapon to have in our arsenal. She’s just going to get better and better at those things. We’re as a team and as a coaching staff going to figure out ways to utilize that even more.”

Burnham said the transition has been eased by Schuller and the rest of the staff.

“I was talking to my (fellow freshman) roommate Aaliyah (Alexander) last night and we were just talking about how supportive the coaching staff and teammates have been to make this adjustment super smooth. I know it can be hard sometimes, scary and hard at times, like for our first practice. But it’s really been smooth and easy getting to work with all my teammates and coaches.”

Burnham isn’t looking for personal accolades or personal milestones this season.

“I have lots of team goals,” she said. “I just try to do my best to help the team win. Whatever that is, to help us reach maybe a Big Sky championship or thrive in league play, things like that.”

Maybe she has one personal goal: stepping out a bit from her family’s rich legacy of basketball achievement to start to carve out her own destiny. She is part of the extended legendary Soliday family who have dominated the hardcourts across the region for decades.

Her mother, Cheri (Soliday) Burnham, won a state title at Reardan in 1988 and her father, Blaze Burnham, set scoring records at St. John-Endicott, reaching the state title games in 1987 and 1988. Her brothers Match and Chase also played collegiately.

She needs to look no further than family dinner for a measuring stick.

“You could say that,” she said. “My family is very competitive and I have great shoes to fill. Both my brothers at Carroll (College) and my parents, you know. I’m just going to make my mark on it and see what happens.”

Burnham also feels the responsibility as a role model for the region.

“I always feel like I have a duty to represent where I came from, Spokane and Spangle,” she said. “It’s a small town and I want to do what I can to give back to them for all that they have given me – for Spokane but especially for Spangle and Liberty for all that they have given me.”

Schuller respects that Burnham carries the torch for the east side of the state as the only member of her squad from the region.

“If we could get every great player that comes out of this region we would scoop them up,” Schuller admitted. “I hope that local players look at Maisie, what she’s doing for us, and understand how special it is to play close to home. And she’s not even feeling it the way it would typically feel. We’re expecting a year from now that there’s going to be however many – you know, the whole town of Spangle will be here.”

Schuller said the experience shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I just think there’s so much value playing close to home. I wish that more local kids would see that and see how special it can be,” she said.

“I hope more Spokane kids will stay. Maisie’s been tasked to make sure it happens a little bit.”

The region has been turning out Division I women’s basketball players for decades.

“I’ve been recruiting Spokane for 20 years,” Schuller said. “The very first commitment I had was from a player off the (Central Valley) state championship team that had Emily Westerberg. Felice Moore (Orrell) was an outstanding player for us, lives in Spokane now and just coached CV to a state championship. A great example of the great players in Spokane.”

Schuller rattled off names like Angie Bjorklund and Briann January to illustrate her point.

“The amount of talent in this region – we are the best area in the state for the last 20 years.

“It’s a great, great basketball town.”

An earlier version of this story misspelled U-Hi girls basketball player Angie Bjorklund’s name.

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