The BR-163 Weber State Wildcats are making a run at the Big Sky women's basketball title. They picked up steam early, and eclipsed last year's win total by mid-January. To the outside observer it was a bit of a surprise to see them eclipse last season's win total by mid-January, but to anyone who knows head coach Bethann Ord, it wasn't a surprise at all.
"I'm very excited for us to be sitting at 15-6 as we start the second half of conference play," Ord said last week. "We had a great nonconference record, highlighted by two tough back-to-back wins in a holiday tournament in North Texas."
During that tourney, the Wildcats downed the host school, North Texas, 45-38 in the opener and then knocked off Stephen A. Austin 56-46. The early-season tournament set the tone for Weber State, putting the team at 6-1 — a huge improvement after finishing the 2014-15 campaign at 11-18.
"I always say 'Rome was not built in a day,'" said Ord, who is in her fifth year running the team. "That is true when building a program from the ground up. I tribute our team's success to taking the proper steps to build a program and change a culture one block at a time.
"That requires bringing in the right king of high character players that fit our program and allowing them to grow and become great leaders on the floor, in the classroom and in the community," she added. "This season I have an amazing group of women who truly encompass the meaning of family and their team chemistry, on and off the court, has allowed us to reach new heights as a program."
Those high-character women are paying off for Ord this season. Regina Okoye is leading the Wildcats with 16.9 points per game this season (287 total) with 45 steals, 16 blocks and 114 rebounds (6.7 per game). Deeshyra Thomas is also putting up big numbers, scoring 290 points (12.6), stealing 44 balls and pulling down 80 boards (3.5). Kailie Quinn has 267 points (11.6) and 37 steals and Brittney Dunbar has a team-high 74 steals to go with her 220 points (9.6) and 95 rebounds (4.1).
Currently sitting at 16-7 (8-4 Big Sky), Weber State could hit the 20-win mark this season with six games remaining on its regular season slate.
"Our goals for the remainder of the season are to continue to focus on one game at a time, grow as a family and team, and get better every day," Ord stated. "Our motto: 'Win The Day'. We revisis our goals periodically throughout the season and one goal we chase every day as we prepare and practice is hoisting up the Big Sky Championship in March."
Currently the Wildcats are in fourth place in the conference behind Idaho, Eastern Washington and Montana State. Next up for Weber State is a matchup against Southern Utah on Thursday. The team will still face all three of the top squads in the league before the Big Sky Tournament opens up on March 7.
Quick Hits With Coach Ord:
Q: What are your goals for the future of the program?
A: My goals for the future of this program are to continue to bring in players that all beliee in our culture and our vision. When I bring young ladies into this program, I want them to graduate and be prepared for life after basketball. My goal is for these young ladies to leave Weber State with a great basketball experience, friendships for life and leave as well-rounded women in the community. From a basketball standpoint, my goal is for this program to be a competitor for a championship every year.
Q: What's your philosophy on recruiting? Why should a recruit consider Weber State?
A: We try to get the best talent in the state, but to build a winning program you can't settle for the fourth best player. At this point, we recruit regionally and then use any connection we have to recruit outside our region. The ultimate goal is to find kids that fit our needs and then go after them. I love having a diverse group. It is the way our world is and it shows that no matter what or where we are from, you can have a group from different backgrounds come together and be as close as family.
Q: Being a former player, how hard was the transition from player to coach?
A: It was very difficult at first because I always wanted to be out there and play. The time as a player goes by so fast and I try to share that experience with my team. I challenge them to not waste a minute of practice, a game, or an opportunity to play the game we love… Win the day!
Q: What are your proudest accomplishments as a coach, at any level?
A: 1. Coaching in a National Championship at Louisville and winning an SEC Championship at Auburn.
2. Witnessing success on and off the court as they come in as young ladies and leave as well-rounded women with a degree and future. Making a positive impact on young girls lives.
3. Being a part of rebuilding two programs: Tulsa and Weber State.
Photo courtesy of Weber State Athletics