Eastern Oregon head coach Anji Weissenfluh said she knew something was up when she saw former players at Quinn Coliseum prior to Saturday’s Cascade Collegiate Conference game.
“Honestly when a few of my alums showed up early at pregame I thought OK. I was happy to see them, but I thought, ‘Why are they here tonight?’
“And then I kind of put it together.”
The coach knew the milestone the alumni were in attendance for, her 400th career victory, could happen this season.
Saturday night, it did.
Maya Ah You-Dias poured in 27 points, Stormee Van Belle recorded a double-double, and Eastern Oregon continued its dominant run through the CCC with a 96-58 beatdown of Evergreen for its 17th straight victory and the 400th the program has attained with Weissenfluh at the helm.
“What it means is I’m really blessed to have had the opportunity to coach so many great athletes and young ladies. That’s what that means,” the coach said. “Very blessed. It also means I’m getting old.
“But really, it’s not my accomplishment. It’s the program’s accomplishment. And I’m not just saying that. We’ve built a program, and it’s involved outstanding young ladies, their parents, the community, my assistant coaches. I’ve been really blessed to be surrounded by so many people that are committed to winning.”
EOU players, knowing the benchmark was coming up, planned for weeks what they would do for the celebration once the win was locked up.
They also were pressing much of the first half trying to make sure it happened, and as a result were unable to shake the Geoducks initially.
“We didn’t come out as we wanted,” Van Belle, who finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, said. “I think we were trying a little too hard in some aspects. I think that was part of it.”
Eastern never trailed, was up nine in the opening quarter and led as much as 40-23 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Ah You-Dias in the second.
Evergreen, though, closed to within 45-34 by halftime on a jumper by Alexcis Higginbotham and was still within nine at 53-44 after a Cayla Jones jumper midway through the third.
Then EOU finally took command. Two free throws by Ah You-Dias and 3-pointers from Payton Parrish and Reece Bauer helped boost the lead back to 15. The lead grew to as much as 21 points late in the third, then quickly ballooned to 26 on 3s by Ah You-Dias and Parrish early in the fourth. Bauer’s triple later made it 82-52 with 6:09 to play.
“Once we finally got a rhythm, obviously Maya took over and Payton was hitting shots.That’s how it rolls,” Van Belle said.
In all six EOU players reached double figures. Parrish finished with 13 points, while Bauer, Jessica Sexson and Maren Herrud each added 10.
Parrish said the team came out with a determination to not lose in the second half and to celebrate the milestone victory.
“It was such a big night. We’re not really sure coach knew, but we knew what was on the line,” she said. “It just kind of set us back a little bit in the beginning but we were able to pick it up in the second half. We came into half and we were like we are not losing this game.”
Van Belle, in fact, said Weissenfluh never brought up the upcoming 400th win.
“We looked it up and we said, ‘We want to make this big and special for coach,’” she said. “She didn’t even talk about out. Coach never talked about it. We were going to make it a big deal for her. She’s pretty humble about everything. She doesn’t want to celebrate too much. She’ll probably say this is for us, the players who made it happen. But in reality she’s led lots of teams as well. She needs to take some credit for it.”
Parrish called it an emotional night, noting both her and Ah You-Dias were in the program when Weissenfluh earned her 300th win in February 2014.
“So now it’s really cool to see her achieve her 400th career win, and I’m just honored to be able to play basketball and be a part of her program,” Parrish said. “It’s crazy to see 100 wins later. She’s just a rockstar.”
The coach, who is now the 10th active coach at the NAIA Division II level with 400 wins, said she was asked earlier in the season if she wanted to know as it was approaching.
She declined. But she knew something was up when the alumni arrived. It was apparent when fans at Quinn Coliseum held up signs in the closing seconds with the number “400” and players gave her a confetti shower on the court after the buzzer.
“And people kept it quiet. They were good,” Weissenfluh said. “All the planning all the preparation. I want to thank everyone. They made it really special.”