It says something about the Lewis & Clark women’s basketball team that in a season of so much success the Pioneers wanted just a little bit more.
During Juli Fulks’ nine-year tenure as head coach, the women’s basketball program has made relentless and steady progress from one year to the next. And in 2012–13, the Pioneers continued to take steps forward. The team went 25-4 for the second year in a row but won its first ever outright Northwest Conference championship, swept the season series with rival George Fox, surged to a national ranking of No. 5, and earned numerous post-season accolades.
Fulks was named coach of the year by the Region 8 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. And standout senior guard Kristina Williams was one of 10 players selected to the WBCA All-America team—the first honor of its kind for Lewis & Clark since moving to NCAA Division III.
Expectations are soaring as Fulks continues to put Lewis & Clark into contention for the national championship.
The competitor in Fulks would have loved to have added a 26th win, at least, but she also knows how far this team progressed with an undersized front line and a new style of play on offense.
After graduating Margaret Dowling, Neva Hauser, and Megan Spence from the 2012 starting lineup, Fulks had to rethink the team’s strategy. With the loss of three top-notch low post players and rebounders, the strength of the roster shifted from the forwards to the guards.
The situation became even more grave when senior forward Daron Dean was lost for the season with a knee injury.
“We were undersized and had some liabilities,” Fulks says. “But the more we played, the more we were able to do a good job of hiding our weaknesses.”
The Pios increased the tempo, allowing Williams and fellow guards Tayler Wang, Sara Villanueva, Kathlene Howe, and Katie Anderson freedom to run. Lewis & Clark didn’t enjoy the same rebounding advantage it had in 2012, but the 2013 edition scored more points, committed fewer turnovers, and shot a higher percentage (78.5) at the free-throw line.
“We attacked the basket off the drive, and I think we had the deepest guard-oriented team in the country,” Fulks says. “No one could match our top six players, and we played with five guards a lot of the time.”
Off the court, a team of diverse backgrounds congealed around a common goal and had fun along the way.
“This team was funny,” Fulks says. “They had one of the best senses of humor of any team I’ve had. They were a perfect combination of being competitive and entertaining.”
Fulks has made a habit of bringing the best out of her players. And the traits that mark each team—whether it be sensational guard play or humor—become ingredients for winning games.
“The greatest thing about basketball is that you find a way to have a common goal and bring everyone together successfully,” she says.
It also helped to have one of the best players in school history to lean on.
Williams logged one of the most prolific seasons in school history, scoring 18.4 points per game to go along with 8.4 rebounds. She finished her career less than 100 points shy of the school record set by Kathy Gibson B.S. ’94 during the program’s NAIA days (1,864 points). “One of her biggest contributions to the program was her out-of-season workouts,” Fulks explains. “She set the standard by going out and running and working out every day. She showed the other players what it takes to be committed year-round to the highest level.”
Williams was driven to succeed in the spring and summer when she motivated herself to keep improving.
“Every summer, I felt like I could focus on something to get better,” the psychology major says. “After sophomore year, it was dribbling ￼￼￼￼and shooting skills. After last year, it was my conditioning and strength training.”
That dedication rubbed off on other players, and the commitment to winning showed.
Lewis & Clark began the season with 11 straight victories, including an 80-68 victory at home over George Fox on New Year’s Eve. That pushed the Pioneers to a No. 5 national ranking in the first week of January. The team finished with a 14-2 record in Northwest Conference play.
“Our league is one of the top three leagues in the country,” Fulks says.
One of those conference teams, Whitman of Walla Walla, Washington, rose up and eliminated the Pios from the NCAA Tournament. After securing home court advantage and defeating Trinity of Texas in the first round, Lewis & Clark was primed to keep rolling.
But Whitman overcame Williams’ 27 points with hot shooting to win the game 66-57
and advanced to the next round.
The Pioneers will chase their dream again next season.
“We have a lot of players with a lot of talent coming back, and they have winning experience,” the coach says. “We’ll make some adjustments, but I think we’re poised to make a really good run at it again next year.”
—by Doug Binder