The love fest with LaVonda Wagner upon her hiring as Oregon State's women's basketball coach in 2005 was a bit overwhelming.

Athletic director Bob De Carolis raved about how Wagner lit up the room when they met to talk for the first time.

"Her interview was a home run," De Carolis said then. "The first minute of her introducing herself, she got my attention. It was electric in the room."

Players said they couldn't wait to get out on the floor and play for the former assistant coach at Duke, who was charged with turning around a program that was coming off a miserable 6-23 campaign that included a 1-17 Pac-10 mark.

"The way she spoke and the way she carried herself, I was ready to play for her now," former player Ebony Young said at the time. "What she's talking about, it sets you up for success.

"She can get us motivated. She's the kind of coach who you want to play for."

Then it was Mandy Close.

"We are ready for her to come in take us under her wing," she said. "If you take a coach from Duke, why can't we do well here?

"She's a great recruiter. She'll bring in great people. I definitely think (national title contention) is in the near future."

National title contention?

It all looked good at first.

Wagner helped guide the Beavers to the Women's National Invitational Tournament her first season and all signs pointed to a turnaround that fans had been hoping for when Judy Spoelstra was let go after 10 seasons.

Amazing how quickly that love affair has turned sour.

Instead of players wanting to get out on the court with Wagner, now they just want to leave - and have. In a mass exodus.

Talisa Rhea, who as a junior led the Beavers in scoring and is ranked eighth on the all-time scoring list, decided she would rather sit out a year at Seattle University instead of staying at Oregon State.

A couple days later, Kirsten Tilleman and Kate Lanz also announced OSU wasn't the place to play basketball.

If Rhea leaving was a damning statement, Lanz's defection and comments may be worse.

Lanz, who was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Oregon after her senior season at Central Catholic in 2009, told The Oregonian she needed out for an alarming reason.

"I decided to leave because for me to be successful I needed to be in an environment that was positive, and it wasn't a positive environment," Lanz said. "I needed to make a change."


The exodus this year isn't the first. In her five seasons, 14 players have left the program before completing eligibility and several assistant coaches have moved on, including Kellee Barney this year.

Now the university is faced with a difficult decision - what to do with Wagner. De Carolis addressed the situation in a statement on Wednesday.

"At the end of the year, all teams undergo a review and I want to assure you that we are in that process right now with regard to women's basketball," the statement read. "I do want to assure all fans, students, faculty, staff, boosters and friends, that I am aware of your concerns and I am examining the status of the program and the welfare of our students."

It seems pretty obvious what needs to happen.

It's time for the Beavers and Wagner to part ways.

Forget the exodus.

Just look at the numbers.

In 10 seasons, Spoelstra went 133-158 for a .457 winning percentage. She was 67-113 in the Pac-10.

However, in the five seasons before that dismal 2004 campaign, Spoelstra led the Beavers to a 79-74 overall mark and 45-45 record in the conference.

After five seasons, Wagner is 68-85 overall and a miserable 26-64 in conference play.

Players leaving en masse, fans frustrated with some of the comments they hear from Wagner during games, a record that leaves much to be desired.

Wagner still has three seasons left on her contract and it may cost more money than the university would like to spend.

But the damage being done to the program right now is only getting worse by the day.

Steve Gress is the sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at steve.gress@lee.net.

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald