As of Wednesday, February 17, 2016
MONMOUTH — Western Oregon’s men’s basketball team has been on a historic run over the past two seasons.
From winning its first conference title last year, the Wolves can now add another piece to school history — the team’s first No. 1 ranking in the national Division II men’s basketball poll.
“It’s definitely cool,” senior forward Andy Avgi said. “I don’t know how many people can say they’ve been ranked No. 1 at any level.”
For two of WOU’s most important players, playing in Monmouth almost didn’t happen.
Coming out of high school, Avgi wasn’t supposed to end up at Western Oregon. In fact, he wasn’t even planning on playing basketball.
“I already committed to play football at Oregon State,” Avgi said. “I was there for like two weeks going to school there, but it wasn’t working out.”
Former coach Brady Bergeson, then in his first year at Western Oregon, made his move.
“It was a hard decision,” Avgi said. “I didn’t want to give up basketball and I think I always knew that, but getting to play (Division I) football is hard to pass up. I knew what I wanted, though.”
Avgi backed out of Oregon State and chose to attend WOU. After redshirting his first year, he saw the early building blocks of what would become the core of the Wolves. Avgi, Devon Alexander, Dezmond Dupree-Turner, Jordan Wiley and Jordan Schriber all entered the program together.
“The core group of us, the majority of us started our first year,” Avgi said. “When you have that, you know you’re going to be great when you get older and become veterans.”
Avgi, the conference Player of the Year last season, grew into the team’s go-to scorer as WOU saw on-court success quickly.
The No. 1 ranking is the latest in the list of accomplishments this group has been able to add to the Wolves since they arrived.
“It’s another first for our core group being here,” Avgi said. “Last year, we made the tournament and won our first GNAC Championship. We were ranked for the first time, now we made it all the way to No. 1.”
Several new faces at WOU have stepped up in big ways, but not all of them knew the situation they were walking into.
When redshirt sophomore Tanner Omlid decided to come home and play for Western Oregon, he wasn’t aware of the Wolves’ recent accomplishments.
Omlid was ready to attend the Oregon Institute of Technology, but WOU’s coaching hire changed everything.
“I didn’t know anything (about the team),” Omlid said. “I knew coach (Jim) Shaw. My parents told me he was a good coach.”
He realized after the team’s season-opening win over Point Loma that they had something special.
“I thought, ‘Andy, he’s going to be a good player,’” Omlid said, smiling. “I didn’t know he was already an all-conference player. He’s unreal. I’ve never played with anyone so good.”
Omlid has provided a spark both starting and off the bench on offense and defense.
But personal and team success hasn’t gone to his head. For Omlid, the team’s rise to No. 1 isn’t the end-goal, it’s a sign that they’re closer to playing their best ball.
“We have to have the mindset that we need to prove it every day,” Omlid said. “Practice is a lot harder, mentally. We’re focusing more. I enjoy the ranking, but what really matters is that we win our last game.”