RANKED & ON A ROLL

January 17, 2002 12:00 am
LEADING PASSER: Eastern Oregon's Tricia Haddock leads the Cascade Conference in assists with nearly six per game; she's also fifth nationally in the NAIA Division II. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).
LEADING PASSER: Eastern Oregon's Tricia Haddock leads the Cascade Conference in assists with nearly six per game; she's also fifth nationally in the NAIA Division II. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

National rankings have been so rare for the Eastern Oregon womens basketball team that coach Anji Weissenfluh could not remember if the team had ever been ranked.

And Weissenfluh has been around the program since 1989, when she started a four-year playing career for the Mountaineers.

Ive always wanted to see the basketball team do well for personal reasons. Im a former player and I am an alumnus, Weissenfluh said.

So Tuesdays No. 18 ranking in the weekly NAIA Division II national poll was pleasant news for a program that has been competitive but not had a winning record since 1991.

I figured wed definitely crack the top 25, but I was hoping for 20 through 25, Weissenfluh said during a break in softball practice Wednesday. Eighteen is nice.

Weissenfluh also coaches the softball team, which she led to the national tournament in 1999 and 2000. But basketball is her first love and the second-year coach has led Eastern to 13-straight wins, a 13-1 record and a 6-0 mark to lead the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

If any previous Eastern team has been ranked, it was likely in the mid-1980s when the team had records like 16-10, 23-9, 19-9 and 19-11 under coach Laurie Turner. But Weissenfluh wasnt sure if the NAIA ranked womens basketball at the time.

Eastern just finished a six-game homestand, and that came after playing the first eight games on the road.

The Mountaineers return to the road Friday against Cascade and Saturday against Concordia, which was ranked 19th last week before losing to Western Baptist.

Cascade has won only three games and is 2-4 in conference, but the Thunderbirds play in what Weissenfluh calls a crackerbox gym where anything can happen.

That was a game Eastern lost last year.

Were not overlooking Cascade, Weissenfluh said. Theyve won two of their last four.

Its Concordia, however, that the Mountaineers have their eye on. The Cavaliers are 4-2 in conference and are the only top-tier team in the league Eastern has not played.

Weissenfluh worried before the season began that her teams defense would be its weakness, yet that defense leads the conference by giving up only 61 points a game while the offense scores 75 points a game.

Easterns opponents are shooting 33 percent, best in the league. From 3-point range, opponents are shooting just 24 percent. And Eastern leads the league with 33 defensive rebounds per game.

To us, our defense still is not very good, Weissenfluh said. When our team talks, we still talk about our defense and what we can do to improve.

Team speed helps. Easterns two starting guards, point guard Tricia Haddock and shooting guard Jamie Jo Cant, both sophomores, lead the league in assists and are strong rebounders. Haddock is fifth in the nation with 5.9 assists per game.

Every scouting report in our conference is saying our guards block out very well, Weissenfluh said.

We need to continue to work on our communication. Sometimes it breaks down. Were looking at zones, throwing different sets at them.

Eastern also has the second-highest scoring offense in the league. Senior forward Brooke Sellards leads the conference with 18.4 points per game, 18th-best in the nation. Haddock and Sellards are among the national leaders in 3-point shooting.

All that was not expected at the beginning of the season.

Were all surprised where were at and what weve done, Weissenfluh said. Youre beating Albertson by 20 points things are going well.