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Katie McWilliams

Katie McWilliams is one of two seniors for the Oregon State women's basketball team, which is coming off an Elite Eight appearance last season. The Beavers began practice Monday for the 2018-19 season. 

After two days of what Scott Rueck described as controlled teaching, the ninth-year Oregon State women’s basketball coach let his team go through a little scrimmage on Wednesday.

He wanted to see just exactly where the players were at so early in practice.

He was not disappointed.

Senior guard Katie McWilliams immediately attacked the basket, hit a jumper and was fouled.

Game on.

“It was played at a pretty high level,” Rueck said Wednesday evening. “And I think that’s what all of us would expect from the experiences that this team has had."

The Beavers returned to practice on Monday in preparation for their season opener against Cal Poly on Nov. 9. So far, the focus and intensity has been what you would expect from a program coming off its second Elite Eight appearance in three seasons.

Rueck said everyone came prepared to compete and described them as hungry, and “it’s fun to coach a hungry team.”

“I think everybody was ready, they had a great summer and that’s evident in the way they’ve played already,” he said. “Just the energy in the gym is great. It’s impressive.”

The players have already built a strong bond on and off the court, one that will continue to grow over the next month.

“This year is going to be a really fun group to play with,” McWilliams said. “We’ve already grown together. We have our retreat this weekend which is going to make us bond even closer. I’m really excited about this season.”

The Beavers lost just one senior — center Marie Gulich, their leading scorer (17.5 points per game) and rebounder (9.1 per game) — off a team that finished 26-8 and reached the Sweet 16 for a third straight season.

“We lost a big piece in Marie but we’re a new team this year and we have different strengths and it will be cool to see how our posts develop and our guards can put the posts in position to be as successful as possible,” junior guard Mikayla Pivec said.

So far, the freshmen have been mostly able to jump in the fray. Having been around in the summer, they have adapted to the physicality on pace of the college game.

“It’s just so cool to see how fast the freshmen are getting accustomed to our program and our culture and what we need to do to win games,” McWilliams said.

Pivec said she remembers how hard it was when she was a freshman.

“For me it was a tough transition but it seems like these freshmen are just so willing to learn and willing to accept criticism or listen to advice to help them play better,” Pivec said. “… It’s cool to see how eager these freshmen are to get better and help our team.”

Rueck said this month or so of practice is vital for everyone to help define the team’s identity and culture as it helps lay the foundation for success.

It’s where the players learn what a championship-level performance in practice looks like and how mentally ready they have to be each day.

“I think whatever goes on this first month is kind of going to be your foundation for where you go,” Rueck said. “For a coach, we love it because we know how important it is so there’s a great challenge.”

While there is plenty of work to be done, the Beavers know they have the chance for another special season.

“I’m super excited for what this year has in store for me and for this team,” McWilliams said. “We’ve come a long way. I’ve matured as a person and a basketball player so I’m ready to step up as that leader for this team and help be that impact to win games this year.”

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Sports Editor

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