Set for nationals

By Casey Kellas, The Observer March 01, 2013 10:41 am

by CASEY KELLAS / The Observer

Eastern Oregon University men’s and women’s basketball teams making trips to national tournaments a regular occurrence of late

It wasn’t that long ago that an appearance in the NAIA Division II national tournament by an Eastern Oregon University basketball team was a rare occurrence.

But not anymore. 

These days, a Mountaineer team playing on the NAIA’s national stage is as common as Duke or North Carolina in the NCAA’s big dance.

Both EOU teams learned their seedings in their respective tournaments on Wednesday, with the women earning a top seed to face Southwestern (Kansas) at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday.

The men’s team will face off with Midland (Nebraska) in the first round at Keeter Gymnasium in Point Lookout, Mo., on Wednesday.

The women are making their seventh overall appearance in Sioux City and second consecutive trip. Anji Weissenfluh, now in her 13th season as head coach, owns a 3-6 record in the national tournament, with two of those wins coming during last year’s Cinderella run to the Elite Eight.

The Mountaineer men are making the trek to Point Lookout for the sixth straight season.

In the 2009 tournament, EOU made a run to the Elite Eight under former head coach Ryan Looney before losing to eventual champion Oklahoma Wesleyan. In the three years since then, the Mountaineers have gone 2-3 in Keeter Gymnasium under the direction of Isaac Williams, now in his fourth season.

But it’s not easy making it to the national tournament year-in and year-out. As both Williams and Weissenfluh can attest, it takes a lot of hard work from a lot of people.

“We’ve had great support from the administration,” Williams said. “Everyone from the president to the athletic director and the community.” 

Weissenfluh expanded on the support the teams have received.

“There’s been a commitment from the administration and university in giving us more resources,” said Weissenfluh, who is also the acting athletic director. “Our scholarships have increased over the years, which has given us the chance to recruit more consistently.”

And recruiting is what it ultimately comes down to when trying to build a perennial winner.

“Recruiting is the name of the game,” Weissenfluh said. “And not just recruiting, but retention. Retaining those kids and coaching them up.”

That retention is obvious this season, as Weissenfluh has five seniors on her roster, while Williams has eight seniors

“We’ve tried really hard to recruit good people,” Williams said. “The process of recruiting to be a top-25 team every year, it takes a lot of hard work. But we pride ourselves on working hard in recruiting and bringing in good players and good kids.”

The thing that’s made this season so special is that both programs have been ranked in the top-10 for the majority of the year, with the men rising as high as No. 1 and the women finishing the season ranked No. 3 in the final coaches’ poll.

That would be on the opposite end of the spectrum from where they finished last year.

The Lady Mountaineers were one of the last teams to receive an at-large bid to the tournament a season ago, while the men went into their tournament unseeded.

This year, the men are No. 8 while the women enter with a top seed.

A pep rally is scheduled for 4 p.m. today to send both teams off. The plan is to start at Goss Motors on Adams Avenue and walk down to Max Square to wish the teams well.