LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Like many of her former teammates on the Eastern Washington women’s basketball team, Bella Cravens is thriving in a different environment.
One of eight players who left the EWU program in recent years, Cravens is finding success on and off the court at Nebraska, which plays Gonzaga in a first-round NCAA Tournament game on Friday in Louisville.
“This was the perfect fit for me,” Cravens said Thursday. “I’ve learned not to put my mental health on the back burner.”
A native of Hawaii, the 6-foot-3 forward said she struggled with anxiety and depression during her two seasons in Cheney.
“I had only two or three good relationships on that entire team,” Cravens said, without going into detail. “I just didn’t feel comfortable.”
Cravens wasn’t the only one.
Numerous players left the EWU program in the past two years, most of them after the 2020-21 season. That season also ended with the dismissal of 20-year head coach Wendy Schuller.
Several have found better situations thanks to the one-year eligibility waiver granted by the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maisie Burnham of Spangle’s Liberty High, the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year, left EWU after one year and transferred to Portland. She was a key player for the Pilots this year, averaging 9.8 points a game.
Kennedy Dickie, of Kelowna, British Columbia, played her first two years at EWU before transferring last spring to another West Coast Conference School, San Francisco. She started 18 games and helped the Dons finish third in the WCC.
The Dons got another key player in guard Jessica McDowell-White, an Australian who played two years in Cheney. Now she’s a starter for USF, where she dished out 138 assists this year.
Several other former Eagles landed at smaller schools.
Sandpoint product Grace Kirscher is at Western Colorado, Alexyss Newman plays at Eastern Oregon, Jenna Dick is at Tarleton State and Bella Pedrojetti at Bushnell University in Oregon.
But only Cravens is playing in the NCAA Tournament.
She started 17 games last year after transferring from EWU, averaging 6.4 points and 7.6 rebounds to help the Cornhuskers reach the WNIT. Her averages this year are 6.2 points and 6.0 boards as a key player off the bench.
“She’s such a special and important piece to what we do, and she is just a very aggressive rebounder,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said.
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