When Oregon State left the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor last Sunday night in Indianapolis with a loss to eventual national champion Connecticut, it marked the end of the most successful women’s basketball campaign in school history.
That 80-51 loss to the Huskies in the Final Four also ended the careers of five seniors, who played monumental roles in the transformation of the program from nearly taking a year off to a team that finished No. 2 in the final coaches poll in just six seasons.
“They got to the final weekend and put themselves into a position to have an incredible opportunity,” coach Scott Rueck said following the loss to Connecticut in the national semifinals. “This senior class is unbelievable and I could not be more proud of who they are, the way they play, but the teammates and the students that they are, it’s mind blowing. They’re an incredible story, which I’ve said a lot, and I’m so happy that they got to represent themselves on this stage. Very well deserved, and I’m nothing but proud.”
The Beavers shared the Pac-12 regular season title with Arizona State after going 16-2 for a second straight season — they won it outright in 2014-15 — and captured their first Pac-12 tournament title with a win over UCLA in the title game.
They also advanced past the second round for the first time and made their first Elite Eight and Final Four appearances in going 32-5, the most wins ever in program history.
Even though the Beavers played against a team that may go down as one of the best ever in women’s college basketball — the Huskies won a fourth straight title — the loss was tough one to take.
Senior and West Albany High grad Samantha Siegner said in the locker room it was tough to sum things up so quickly after the loss.
“I just look at all we accomplished this year and especially in the four years we’ve been here, it’s been really incredible to be a part of it,” she said.
Added senior Ruth Hamblin, a two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year: “It’s been absolutely unreal. Yeah, just the work ethic of the people that came into this program and everyone bought into the vision that coach Rueck had, and we’ve all kind of been in this together, us against the world. And it’s been a lot of fun and a lot of ups and downs, and obviously coming here to the Final Four has been the pinnacle moment for this program. And I’m so honored to have been a part of it.”
In addition to Siegner, one of the most versatile players on the team, and Hamblin, the Beavers lose Pac-12 player of the year Jamie Weisner and four-year starter Deven Hunter, along with Jen’Von’Ta Hill, a transfer who joined the program two seasons ago.
“We’re losing some significant seniors, of course,” Rueck said. “The foundation of this turnaround and this rebuild of a program.”
But Rueck said even with those losses, the expectations should remain high for the Beavers heading into the 2016-17 season and beyond.
“I like where we’re at,” he said. “Certainly some big holes to fill. I think we’ll look slightly different in the future. But this is a team that expects to win and a program that expects to win. And so my expectation is that that continues.”
The Beavers will return starting guards Sydney Wiese and Gabby Hanson, who will both be seniors next season.
They know they will need to play bigger roles moving forward.
“We’ve seen with all the hard work we’ve put in what we can accomplish and the importance of continuing to take care of each other,” Hanson said. “This isn’t easy by any means and we take away that. This isn’t easy but if we stay together and we work hard, there’s so many things we can accomplish.
“Then, obviously, just playing at this level, now we know what it takes. I think we just go in with that wisdom. I’m so glad everybody is going to be a very elite, mindful group, I think, for the incoming class to come in.”
That incoming class features four players, including Mikayla Piveck, a five-star point guard and the No. 24 overall recruit according to espnW. Also in the class is four-star guard Kat Tudor (57th), four-star wing Madison Washington (91st) and three-star forward Janessa Thropay.
The Beavers are also reportedly in the running for the No. 4 overall player, guard Sabrina Ionescu, who has yet to sign. The next signing period begins Wednesday. She has also listed Oregon and California as potential schools.
That is in addition to returning players Kolbie Orum, a senior, juniors Marie Gulich and Breanna Brown, and sophomores Katie McWilliams and Taylor Kalmer. Tarea Green, who redshirted this season, will be a freshman.
“I think the future is very bright,” Weisner said. “I think we have a winning culture here now and it kind of set the tone in that regard. There’s obviously a lot of talent from our bench that we don’t even often see just because we’re so deep. But they are very talented and I know we have a very good recruiting class and so I’m excited to see what they do in the future.”
Added Hamblin: “We’ve kind of set the bar high for this program and everyone’s expectations are going to continue to be high, and we know how to handle that now. And I think we’ve got a lot of young talent coming in. And our recruiting class is good. I’m really excited to see what the team does in the future and how they respond next year.”