EWU women’s basketball ready to eclipse expectations


Senior forward Delaney Hodgins defends her opponent in a conference game last season. Hodgins was named the Big Sky Conference Preseason MVP | The Easterner Archives

By Jeremy Burnham, Reporter

In 2016, the EWU women’s basketball team were led by the stellar trio of junior forward Delaney Hodgins, senior point guard Tisha Phillips and senior forward Ashli Payne.

All three players averaged over 10 points a game. They were the team’s three leading players in rebounds, and Phillips led the team in assists. This year, Hodgins returns, while Phillips and Payne have graduated.

The 2016 version of the Eagles made the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference championship tournament, and advanced to the second round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational. The 2017 team will look to continue that success.

The two preseason polls, however, expect the Eagles to finish near the middle of the pack in the conference. The BSC coaches poll have the Eagles at No. 7, and the media poll has them at No. 6. Even so, head coach Wendy Schuller, who returns for her 17th season, doesn’t pay much attention to preseason chatter.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a preseason poll and really has nothing to do with what our season will look like,” said Schuller. “We are typically picked in the middle to bottom half of the league and have consistently finished in the upper half and I have the same expectation for our team this year.”

Hodgins, now a senior forward, takes sole leadership of an Eagles team that will be playing four true freshmen. Last year Hodgins was the team’s leading scorer, notching 17.5 points per game and scoring in double digits in all but one regular season game. Before this season, she was chosen as the conference’s preseason MVP.

Schuller thinks Hodgins is deserving of the award.

“I’m very happy for Delaney, said Schuller. “It’s well deserved and what I think will be one of the many accolades she collects this season. She’s worked hard her entire career and I think it’s a great thing.”

Hodgins enters the season just 334 points behind EWU’s all-time leading scorer, who just happens to be her older sister, Hayley. Hayley Hodgins, who played for the Eagles from 2012-2016, scored 1,865 points for the Eagles. Delaney enters the season needing 434 points to tie her sister. Assuming she plays in all of the Eagles’ 30 games, she would need to average 14.5 points a game.

Though Philips and Payne have graduated, the rest of last year’s starting lineup returns. Along with Hodgins, junior guard Violet Kapri Morrow and junior forward Alissa Sealby return, while multiple reserves return as well.

The returning players include: senior forward Mariah Cunningham, junior center Amira Chandler, sophomore guards Andie Easley, Symone Starks and Baylee Rexing, sophomore forward Uriah Howard and redshirt freshman forward Amy Hartleroad.

Rounding out the roster are four incoming freshman. Guards Lea Wolff and Brittany Klaman join the Eagles backcourt, while center Cailyn Francis and forward Lilly Perkins are frontcourt additions.

The Eagles are already leaning heavily on Hodgins early in the season. In EWU’s 81-56 loss at Fresno State on Nov. 11, Hodgins had 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. She faced many double teams in the second half, yet the next highest scoring player for the Eagles was Starks with six.

Schuller knows that the Eagles will need other players to contribute if they are going to be successful.

“I thought Delaney had a great night,” said Schuller. “She almost had a triple-double and really stepped up and assumed that roll of a scorer. But we’ve got to have a couple others that are also scorers for us, and tonight she was the only one. We have to have at least two or three kids at least in double-figures for us every night for us to be better offensively.”

The Eagles picked up their first victory of the season on Nov. 14 against Air Force. They won 65-63 in overtime as Hodgins had 28 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and four steals.

Kapri Morrow added 13 points and five rebounds.

The Eagles have 11 more non-conference games before BSC play starts on Dec. 28.

EWU will return to Reese Court on Friday, Nov. 17, when they play host to BYU.