MONMOUTH — During Holli Howard-Carpenter’s tenure as head coach of Western Oregon University’s women’s basketball team, the Wolves have struggled to find success in the win column.
WOU posted eight or fewer wins in each of her first four seasons.
But the winds of change may be blowing in Monmouth.
The Wolves defeated Humboldt State 64-62 on Nov. 17, thanks to a game-winner by Savannah Heugly, to improve to 4-0 for the first time in 30 years.
“A lot of us haven’t been in this situation before,” Howard-Carpenter said. “We have a lot of transfers who came from winning programs, but as a team, the excitement and the confidence is growing. The girls have trust in each other and want to do this for each other.”
Getting to this point has been a process — one that has taken time.
When Howard-Carpenter arrived at Western Oregon, it had been 11 years since the women’s basketball team posted a winning record.
“Our first couple years, it was about changing the culture,” Howard-Carpenter said. “After that, it was about getting in the personnel to be competitive. Now, this year, to me, is finally laying the foundation for future success.”
Changing the culture wasn’t a simple process.
“We wanted a more positive atmosphere. That was the No. 1 thing we focused on,” Howard-Carpenter said. “Secondly, we didn’t want to be OK with being mediocre. That was a big part of it. Finally, we focused on the work ethic.”
Part of that meant getting current players to buy in.
Part of it also meant piecing together the kind of roster Howard-Carpenter wanted.
“We had slower progress than we wanted, but we don’t have the resources or the scholarships to bring in a whole new squad and start from scratch,” Howard-Carpenter said. “But for me, I’d rather do it the right way than take shortcuts. We’ve passed on recruits I know could have helped us because they weren’t a fit for our program.”
Jasmine Miller is one of two seniors on the roster who have played for Howard-Carpenter all four seasons.
The biggest key to building the program has been buying in early and never wavering, even as losses mounted, Miller said.
“It’s been a journey,” Miller said. “We started from the bottom to get here. It’s nice to see all that work we started putting in four years ago pay off.”
As Howard-Carpenter slowly built her roster, the Wolves began shaping up like she imagined.
“The new people we’ve brought in, they don’t know the history of Western Oregon,” Howard-Carpenter said. They’re coming to just play and win. For Sydney (Azorr) and Jasmine, for them to see some success is a testament to them staying the course and understanding the process.”
That patience and dedication seems to have started to pay off, but bigger tests loom.
The Wolves open Great Northwest Athletic Conference play at home against Saint Martin’s Thursday at 7 p.m. and Seattle Pacific Saturday at 2 p.m.
Western Oregon was picked to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“We have to come in like we’re not 4-0,” Miller said. “We have to look at each opponent and know they are as good, if not better, than the one that came before.”
This season represents another step in building WOU’s program.
But this season has the potential to be a big step forward.
“Sometimes, when you get used to the losses, they kind of roll off your back,” Howard-Carpenter said. “Having some wins, they want to have that feeling over and over again.”