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Beavers luring local talent


–  Coach Rueck's hoops vision resonates with women at home

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Oregon State's Deven Hunter battles inside during last week's NCAA Women's Tournament play in Corvallis, which has become a destination for top players, including those who live in the state,CORVALLIS — Oregon State women’s basketball was still in the depths of the Pac-12, at least perception-wise, when Samantha Siegner and Deven Hunter attended high school only miles away.

Both remember when the program fell apart under the direction of LaVonda Wagner and the Beavers brass brought in small-college coach Scott Rueck in June 2010.

“I had actually written Oregon State off,” says Siegner, who played at West Albany High. “You kind of wanted to stay away from here. You weren’t sure what was going to happen.”

“I didn’t really look at Oregon State,” says Hunter, who prepped at McNary High in Keizer.

Fast forward through the building years, through the recruitment of Siegner and Hunter and fellow seniors Ruth Hamblin and Jamie Weisner, through the winning of the Pac-12 and NCAA games. The Beavers have arrived as a destination for top-level state of Oregon talent. And the proof is true freshman Katie McWilliams, another player who lived near OSU in the Willamette Valley.

“From the beginning, I knew I wanted to go to Oregon State and be close to home,” says McWilliams, the former South Salem star who was recruited heavily by Pac-12 and other schools. “It’s such a dominant program here. It was a perfect fit.”

Historically, the state’s great women’s players often have overlooked Oregon State — and Oregon — to play elsewhere, out of state. The list is long, we’ll spare you the details, but Springfield’s Mercedes Russell, Westview’s Jaime Nared and Central Catholic’s Jordan Reynolds all going to Tennessee in recent years was part of the trend.

Even in Oregon’s heyday under then-coach Jody Runge, the Ducks couldn’t lure many top in-state recruits, despite UO’s annual presence in the NCAA tourney.

Maybe things are changing. The Beavers sport three Oregonians on their roster: Hunter, Siegner and McWilliams, not to mention a redshirting post player, Tarea Green from Hillsboro High.SIEGNERGREEN

Granted, the Beavers’ early signing class features four players from out of state, highlighted by five-star guard Mikayla Pivec of Lynnwood, Wash., the highest-rated player ever signed by the program. But you better believe the OSU coaches and Rueck are pushing hard to lure 6-0 guard Evina Westbrook of South Salem, McWilliams’ alma mater.

Oregon State has become a much more attractive program under Rueck’s guidance, especially after consecutive Pac-12 regular-season titles, a Pac-12 tournament championship this year and now a spot in the NCAA Women’s Tournament Sweet 16 — the Beavers wll play DePaul at 3 p.m. PT Saturday at Dallas (ESPN).

Siegner, a 6-3 forward and highly recruited player at West Albany, was offered a scholarship by some Pac-12 schools and Kansas State. She signed with Oregon State because of Rueck and his assistant coaches. It helped that Siegner had two younger sisters and family she could remain close to, being only a 15-minute drive away.

“They won us all over,” says Siegner, a reserve player. “We were all very blessed to be here. ... It started with the staff, the vision they had, and we all bought into that. It made you want to stay here, and not necessarily get away from your family and whatnot. It has been a great experience; for any Oregon people looking (at colleges), it’s a great place to be.”

Same thing with 6-3 starting forward Hunter, who had only spent time in Corvallis to watch OSU softball games — and because her grandparents have lived there. Some Pac-12 schools, Kansas State and smaller Division I schools in California recruited her while she starred at McNary.

“I didn’t think of it as ‘being close to home,’ but a better place for basketball,” Hunter says. “It was a benefit being close to home.”

Hunter says players are as likely to sign with Oregon State as leave the state now.

“Since we’ve put our name on the map, people come to watch us from all over. Players in high school who are top players see it as a great place, and staying close to home is also a good thing,” she says.

The 6-2 guard McWilliams, who started when Sydney Wiese was injured this season and has played prime reserve minutes, wanted to stay because OSU was close to her home in Salem. Now she believes Oregon State could be a destination for top women’s players, of which the state has produced many through the years.MCWILLIAMS

“I think a lot of people do like to leave, but Oregon State has been building and building, and I trusted Scott and the rest of the coaching staff,” she says. “I knew it was going to be something I would love and really enjoy. It’s been great so far. It’s going to be even better these next three years.”

The Beavers will be interesting to watch in 2016-17, with the seniors leaving and the torch being passed to Wiese, McWilliams, post Marie Gulich, guard Gabriella Hanson and probably incoming freshman Pivec and others to continue the national-level program, which has become one of the state of Oregon’s best all-time sports stories.

“We’ve got to stay up there,” McWilliams says. “Hopefully we’ll have five scorers all the time, and people to come in and score, too. I’m excited for the freshmen who will be coming in. I’ve played against them and with them, and they’re all amazing players.

“I know we’ll keep working hard, and Scott will keep pushing us, and we’ll try to be even better next year. We’ll do our best to be that top program we can be.”

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