Eagles expected to soar after 2015 Big Sky win


Photo by Melanie Flint

Bogdan Bliznyuk makes a practice shot.

By Riley Baker, Staff Writer

Expectations are high for the men’s basketball team this year. There is a lot of hype surrounding this team after winning the Big Sky Conference Championship and making an appearance in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

“Personally I’d like to lead us straight back to where we were in the NCAA [tournament],” senior Venky Jois said. “If we can do that then I’m completely happy with the season. And that means we’ve all performed extraordinarily well.”

Jois is the only returning senior and was named the Big Sky preseason MVP. “I haven’t proved anything,” Jois said of winning the preseason MVP. “It’s obviously flattering to be recognized by the league, but as far as what me and the team are going to do, that’s all I’m looking for now.”

While Jois has his eyes set on returning to the NCAA tournament, head coach Jim Hayford’s goal for the season is more focused on the day-to-day improvements. When asked if the bar is set even higher for this season, Hayford replied, “Yes and no. Yes in that you want to take the program to a better place every year. No in that our goal everyday is to be the best we can be. We’ve got to figure out what is the best this team can be today and make that the goal.” Hayford is in his fifth season as head coach.

Because several key pieces from last year’s team are gone, other players will need to step up. A big contributor this year will be senior Saint Louis University transfer Austin McBroom. He is looking to bring experience to the team in the hopes of reaching their second consecutive NCAA tournament berth. “I’ve been there before so I bring experience to the team and it’s definitely a big goal of mine to get back to the tournament,” McBroom said.

Another aspect he said he wants to bring to this young team is knowing how to win games. “I’ve played the game for a couple years now and I’ve advanced when it comes to defense. I came from a defensive team, so I can definitely help when it comes to defense … And just making my guys better, try to be a point guard who makes assists and is a defensive stopper who knocks down shots.”

After finishing with a 26-9 overall record last season, the team looks for Felix Von Hofe to be a big contributor this year. When asked what his goal for the season was, Von Hofe said he wants to be a vocal leader. “I think from a leadership perspective, to be as vocal as possible on the court … I’m one of those loud guys so it’s going to be a big thing to be vocal on the court, especially on defense.” Von Hofe also wants to just play his role and make all the shots he needs to.

Last season’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year Bogdan Bliznyuk looks to start right where he left off. “I’m just going to do what I can — I’m not going to force anything,” Bliznyuk said. “If the team needs me to step up and do a little more, then I’ll do that, but it’s not like I’m there trying to force something or do something extra. I’ll play within myself, play the system and however it goes that’s how it’s going to go.”

Even though four of last year’s five starters are gone, including Tyler Harvey who left for the NBA, Hayford said he believes this team still remains a threat. “It’s a non-issue”, said Hayford of the non-returning starters. “We have experienced players coming back at all but one position and we have really talented players. We went and got the best available experienced player that we could [Austin McBroom]. So we have the experience that we need.”

Both the coach and media preseason polls have Eastern Washington University finishing third in the Big Sky Conference standings, behind Weber State University and the University of Montana, but this doesn’t lower any of the players’ expectations for the season.

“I think we can do the same thing as we did last year and get even further,” Bliznyuk said. “So it’s not just to get there, but it’s to get there and make some noise.”

The season tips off on the road against Mississippi State University on Nov. 13.