Falcon Women Advance to Elite Eight Amid Solid Fall and Winter Athletic Performances
Season of Strength
Falcon women celebrated in Brougham Pavilion before heading to St. Joseph, Missouri, for the quarterfinals.
Ranked 13th in the nation, the Seattle Pacific University women’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight just as Winter Quarter came to a close.
And under new Athletic Director Erin O’Connell, Falcon teams in nearly every sport this fall and winter fired on all cylinders. Spring sports are just getting started and offer even more opportunities for high drama and consistent achievement. Be prepared for either one.
Under Coach Julie van Beek, the SPU women’s basketball team continued its winning ways from last year. Junior Melissa Reich registered her fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and sophomore Jordan Harazin scored a career-high 17 points in a 76–68 triumph over Chico State in the West Regional championship game at Brougham Pavilion, March 15, 2010. Top-seeded in the West Region, the Falcons (27–3) earned a trip to the Elite Eight with this 14th consecutive victory.
Van Beek is now in her fifth season at SPU. In her first four seasons, her teams never won fewer than 20 games. She notched her 100th Falcon victory earlier this season and has a record of 123–24 (an .837 winning percentage) for her SPU career heading into the Elite Eight.
An exciting surprise this year was the success of first-year men’s basketball coach Ryan Looney, who came to SPU last May from Eastern Oregon University.
It might have been reasonable to expect an adjustment period; no rookie SPU coach had ever done better than the 16–11 record set by Looney’s predecessor, Jeff Hironaka, who had spent 11 years as an assistant and knew the conference, the players, and the system. How well could a new guy hope to do?
Looney and the Falcons reeled off nine consecutive victories to begin the season — the best start by an SPU team since 1994. Looney also became the only first-year coach to direct SPU into the playoffs. The team clinched the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) title in regular-season play and made its sixth straight NCAA Division II tournament appearance, this time as the No. 3 seed. The tournament ended for SPU with a 76–72 loss to BYU Hawaii, completing the Falcons’ impressive 22–6 season.
Not surprising at all are the further adventures of senior running sensation Jessica Pixler. She became the first woman in Division II to win three consecutive individual national cross country titles, boosting her team to second place in the conference, third in the West Regional meet, and fourth nationwide. At the end of January, Pixler, while suffering from shingles, ran a conference-record 4:33.46 in the indoor mile.
Among a shelfload of honors, including nine NCAA titles, she earned a mention in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” column and was selected as USA Track & Field’s Pacific Northwest Female Track Athlete of the Year. She was also named to the GNAC All-
Academic team for the third time, along with five other Falcon cross country runners.
In soccer, a 16–3–2 season featuring 10 consecutive shutout wins and a seventh straight trip to the NCAA tournament is a pretty good year. It ended on a disappointing note for the SPU women as they lost in the first round of the tournament to Chico State on penalty kicks after a scoreless tie, denying the 2008 national champs the opportunity to defend their title. But senior forward Jocelyn Charette earned second-team All-America honors and was named GNAC Player of the Year, while Chuck Sekyra ’89 received the GNAC Coach of the Year nod. In addition to Charette, three other Falcons were named to the all-region squad.
With nine starters returning and five highly touted freshmen committed for next year, it looks as though the Falcons will have more opportunities to contend for a trophy.
Men’s Soccer and Women’s Volleyball
Both the men’s soccer (11–5–3, third in GNAC) and women’s volleyball (17–12, second in GNAC) teams staged something of a resurgence in 2009. SPU was nationally ranked in men’s soccer for the first time in two years, and had eight players earn All-Conference honors. And Coach Chris Johnson’s volleyball team went to its first NCAA tournament since their record-setting 2006 season.
—Photo by Andrew Towell
Return to top
Back to Athletics Home