November 14, 2001 11:00 pm
LEADING SCORER: Eastern Oregons Brooke Sellards shot 78 percent from the free throw line last season. (The Observer file photo/PAT PERKINS).
LEADING SCORER: Eastern Oregons Brooke Sellards shot 78 percent from the free throw line last season. (The Observer file photo/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

If the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers womens basketball team can find a way to play defense this season, theyll be all right.

Its all about offense, thats for sure, second-year coach Anji Weissenfluh said. We have 10 times more offensive weapons this year. I just dont think (our defense) is very tough.

The 2001-02 Mountaineers, picked by coaches to finish sixth in the conference, have more offense than theyve been able to put together for several seasons. Start with last years leading scorer, add one of the top scorers from two years ago and bring in a transfer who was Imbler High Schools leading scorer two years ago. Sprinkle in several offensive threats off the bench, and watch them score 80 points a game.

Of course, if the other team scores 81, its all for naught, and Weissenfluh knows that.

Were doing a lot of drills, focusing on that in practice, she said. The big thing is the toughness of our defense. They have a tendency to play with their hands instead of with their body.

Running is punishment during those defensive drills, and Weissenfluh hasnt met a player who would rather run than shoot during practice. That has led to some improvement, not to mention gotten her team in shape.

It is improving, but we need to really improve, she said.

The Mountaineers begin their season Friday in the Puget Sound Tip-Off Tournament in Tacoma. Eastern opens against Puget Sound at 6 p.m. and plays Saturday against either St. Marys (Minn.) or Trinity (Texas).

Easterns run-up-and-down-the-floor offense starts with senior forward Brooke Sellards, an all-Cascade Collegiate Conference player who led Eastern with 13.8 points per game. Sellards has been nursing a bad back but has improved her outside shot, which should boost her 25 percent 3-point shooting of a year ago.

With the other offense available, Sellards wont be expected to do all the scoring this season. She knows she doesnt have to put it on her shoulders, Weissenfluh said.

In return, Weissenfluh expects Sellards to provide more leadership.

Eastern also has the conferences freshman of the year, point guard Tricia Haddock (94 assists, 112 turnovers, 40 steals), who has also worked on her shot and is more willing to take one.

She was a little more uptight last year. Shes letting the game come to her this year, Weissenfluh said.

Post player Julie Coffin played two years ago as Julie Wallace before she took a year off and got married. In the 2000 conference season, she averaged 15 points per game after a slow preseason. At 6-foot, she gives the team some height and strength on the offensive boards.

Two transfer students round out the starting five. Tori Van Brocklin played with Sellards at Lower Columbia College two years ago. A 5-8 guard, Van Brocklin may be the teams best defensive player.

Shes one of the top two in every physical fitness category we have, Weissenfluh said. She knows the game very well, and shes very, very athletic.

The other transfer is Imblers Jamie Jo Cant, who played volleyball last year at Columbia Basin College. Cant was an all-state guard in 2000 and averaged 18.2 points per game. Weissenfluh recruited her last year and gushes about her ability.

I never even gave her close to the credit as she deserves, the coach said. I dont know if the girl has a weakness. She could be a little stronger physically, but thats a little grasping at straws. I knew I was going to get a good player, but I didnt know I was going to get a great player.

Thats high praise for somebody who hasnt played a game that counts in 21 months, but Cant scored more than 20 points in a scrimmage against Treasure Valley Community College and played well in Easterns alumni game Saturday.

In fact, Cant played point guard for much of her time in the alumni game and will back up Haddock at that position.

Eastern also has offense sitting on the bench. Forward Rachelle Stockman has improved her 3-point shot and should drive more to the basket. Guard Teresa Guerra red-shirted last year but is the teams best shooter, especially from 3-point range.

Post player Danielle Dianda averaged five points in 12 minutes per game last season but must work on keeping out of foul trouble. Michelle Kinley played on the JV squad a year ago and at 5-10 can play any of the five positions.

Post player Heather Epeldi averaged double figures scoring for Treasure Valley two years ago but sat out last year. Shes also a strong rebounder, Weissenfluh said. Guard Julie LiaBraaten has one term of eligibility remaining and wont play until Dec. 13 at the Las Vegas Invitational; she will miss the first six games.

Two freshmen made the varsity, although they will see most of their playing time on the JV team. Jennifer Stockman, Rachelles sister, is a 5-11 forward who is learning Easterns system. Sarah Smith is a 6-3 post working on her offensive moves.

Smith has already drawn the nickname The Wall. At one practice, Sellards drove the baseline and ran into Smith.

It flattened Brooke, knocked the wind out of her, Weissenfluh said. And Sarah didnt even do anything.

Aside from defense, Easterns biggest concern is its preseason schedule. The first nine games are on the road. The first home game is not until Dec. 30 against Walla Walla.

It will prepare us for conference games on the road, Weissenfluh said. If we can survive early, we will be in the hunt late.