Slaughter: Beavers say goodbye and look to the future

Brenden Slaughter

For the second time in as many years, I was in the locker room following the end of the Oregon State women’s basketball’s season.

Last year, a white hot Beavers squad ran into a wall, better known as the UConn Huskies in the Final Four. The locker room was filled with tears and raw emotion, as the OSU’s magical run to through the tournament came to screeching halt against the eventual national champs.

This year, with very little expectations the Beavers defied odds and won their third straight Pac-12 championship before losing to 66-53 Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen. This year’s locker room was slightly different. Tears were shed and emotions were running wild, but there was a sense of pride about what they accomplished this season given the expectations.

It was two completely different seasons, with completely different teams, but despite the differences, both teams were faced with the same question.

What will the Beavers regroup after losing their seniors?

Last year it was Jamie Weisner, Ruth Hamblin, Deven Hunter, Jen Von’Ta Hill, and Sam Siegner who were leaving Corvallis, and this year it’s Sydney Wiese, Gabby Hanson, Kolbie Orum and potentially Bre Brown.

The Beavers have now graduated the pillars that Scott Rueck used to build this program from the ashes. In his first season, Rueck had to have open tryouts just to field a team as the program was in such disarray after the Lavonda Wagner fallout.

Like a good builder, Rueck built the pillars brick by brick. He turned Weisner into one of the best players in the nation. He took a tall canadian prospect in Ruth Hamblin and turned her into a two time Pac-12 defensive player of the year. And perhaps most important, he found Wiese, a lefty point guard from Phoenix and turned her into the face of the program. I could go on and on, but he gave these girls the tools and coaching to revive a once proud program.

The real question now has to be asked. Now that the pillars are gone, how will OSU be able to sustain their success?

When I arrived in Corvallis three years ago, I didn’t have much knowledge or interest in the OSU women’s basketball program. I never really followed NCAA women’s basketball, and I didn’t know one iota about the program other than Rueck.

But my mindset completely changed when I met the players that Rueck had brought in to lead this program. Whether it was Weisner’s sense of humor, Wiese’s on the court dance moves, or Hamblin’s hard hat and lunch pail grit all these players were so unique in every way.

It was because of all those players, and many more that I haven’t named in addition to Rueck that I can say I’ve never seen something so special and so unique unfold in my years of being a reporter.

Despite the pillars now being gone, and the Beavers 2016-2017 season coming to an end, the Beavers must now look towards the future. And for the first time in many years, now the Beavers don’t have those pillars.

Gone is Hanson– the defensive ace. Gone is the crafty Orum.  And gone is Wiese, who will only return to when her jersey is retired at Gill Coliseum someday.

The torch is finally being passed. Players like Wiese, Weisner, and Hamblin were at OSU building the program to where it is today. Now it’s up to players like Mikayla Pivec, Katie McWilliams, and Marie Gülich to ride the wave and keep the program at the level it is now, where Pac-12 championships and deep tournament runs are the standard.

“Last year with the big loss of seniors, this year people underestimated us,” Orum said. “How hard a team works, and how dedicated they are will show in the next season. With us (the seniors) leaving it’s the same thing as last year. If our team is dedicated and they stick with it they will just as good or better.”

The Beavers will never have another Wiese, just like they will never have a Weisner or Hamblin, but that is the nature of the sport. Veteran players graduate and underclassmen step in. It’s up to the coaching staff to bring in the next big thing, and with OSU bringing in the 13th best recruiting class in the nation next season according to ESPN, the future is sparkling like a shooting star.

“This program is in good hands,” Wiese said. “The culture that we’ve been able to create here is tight. Coach Rueck is the captain of the ship and he is going to make sure it doesn’t matter what pieces we have.”

For two years, OSU’s season end before my very eyes, and both times a question loomed over the program. Now that the Beavers have graduated the pillars, they just might begin to build their own version of the parthenon.

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