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Guards Maddie Mulheim and Rose Pflug a veteran presence for improving Portland women's basketball.

COURTESY PHOTO: UP ATHLETICS - Maddie Mulheim is back for a fifth season with the Portland women's basketball team, looking to add to her school record for 3-pointers and help the Pilots continue to improve.A basketball journey that has spanned a decade for Maddie Mulheim and Rose Pflug is poised for a rewarding finish.

The former Sunset Apollos, who have been friends since joining Clutch Players AAU programs as sixth-graders, are among the veterans on a Portland Pilots women's basketball team looking to take another step forward in its third season with coach Michael Meek. After a season without family and friends at Chiles Center, getting one more shot feels extra special.

It's why Mulheim, the Pilots' career leader for made 3-pointers, is back for a bonus season while studying for her MBA. Pflug is excited that her final season will be a complete college basketball experience.

To do it in their hometown, for a program on the rise, makes it even more special.

"It's a huge deal. It's something that we're really proud of," Mulheim said. "It's really cool. Being from Portland, we've seen the program from where it started. And now growing it with Mike (Meek), it's been awesome."

A 5-8 guard, Mulheim gets a shot to extend her program record for career made 3-pointers (227), taking advantage of the extra season granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic. While proud of the UP 3-point record, Mulheim said she came back to experience one more "normal" season with fans at games.

After Mulheim and Pflug helped Sunset reach the 2017 state tournament at Chiles Center, Mulheim joined the Pilots in 2017-18 and played two seasons for Cheryl Sorenson. Pflug, meanwhile, headed to Malibu, California, where she played in 64 games over two seasons at Pepperdine. When Meek was hired at UP, Pflug (encouraged by Mulheim) transferred home.

COURTESY PHOTO: UP ATHLETICS - Rose Pflug worked hard to prepare for her final season of college basketball and aims to help the Portland Pilots to new heights.A knee injury sidelined Pflug for the 2019-20 season, when the Pilots won the West Coast Conference Tournament championship. Last season, she averaged 13 minutes in 24 games (one start).

Meek said Mulheim is one of the smartest players on a smart basketball team. "Maddie really understands the details that we try to go through and is really in tune to them," he said.

Meek said Pflug, a solid ball-handler and shooter, is in the best shape of her career and is "playing with exceptional energy. And I think that's such a huge part of being on a great team. The more players that we have who play with the energy and effort that she's playing with right now just is infectious."

Mulheim and Pflug are part of a veteran core on a team with big aspirations. The Pilots return four starters and its top eight scorers from a team that went 14-13 and lost in the finals of a Women's Basketball Invitational postseason tournament. That a winning season was a disappointment is testament to how fast Meek has transitioned the Pilots' program.

"Our identity will be a lot of energy and a lot of getting after it, especially defensively," Pflug said. "It's not a secret that Mike's system is up-and-at-em, and I think we're all buying into that. We want to be out there just getting after it and working as hard as we can."

Any discussion of the Pilots begins with their all-conference duo from Townsville, Australia: senior guard Haylee Andrews and junior wing-post Alex Fowler. In conference play, Andrews last season led the WCC in both scoring (18.4) and assists (6.2). Fowler, the fastest Pilot to reach 1,000 points, averaged 16.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in all games last season.

The other returning starters are 5-11 junior forward Keeley Frawley and 6-0 sophomore Emme Shearer. Redshirt forward Liana Kaitu'u and junior guard Kelsey Lenzie each have appeared in more than 50 games for the Pilots, and McKelle Meek, Mike's daughter, played in 19 games as a freshman last season.

A talented and diverse group of newcomers make this the deepest Pilots' team in memory.

Lucy Cochran, a 6-6 junior forward who sat out last season after transferring from Oregon, can be a shot-blocking presence with passing and shooting skills.

Transfer Maisie Burnham, a 5-11 guard, was the Big Sky Conference freshman of the year who averaged 14 points a game for Eastern Washington last season.

How the six-player freshman class impacts this season is to be seen, but Meek is excited about the potential of Australians Emma Strelein (5-11 guard) Maddie Condron (6-8 post) and Emily Sewell (6-3 forward) along with freshmen guards MJ Bruno from Spokane, Washington, Camryn Collman from La Grande and Chance Bucher from Half Moon Bay, California.

COURTESY PHOTO: UP ATHLETICS - Entering his third season coaching Portland women's basketball, Michael Meek has the Pilots continuing on an upward trajectory."We've added some really good players to what we already have returning," Meek said. "So, overall, I feel really good about where we're at and where we're going and what we've accomplished so far."

The Pilots certainly aren't shying from challenges. They will visit defending national champion Stanford on Nov. 16 (the Cardinal are scheduled to visit the Pilots next season) and play host to 10th-ranked Oregon at Chiles Center on Dec. 4.

Meek said playing two of the elite programs in the country will help prepare the Pilots for a tough WCC and are "an opportunity to see what national title contenders look like and what we're working our way to. That would be, ideally, our goal to get to that point."

This version of the Pilots might not be on that level. But the 2020 WCC tournament title was a shot of confidence, and an example of how chemistry and commitment can produce special outcomes. Mulheim and Pflug both plan to join the accounting firm KPMG after school. First, the friends will make a few more basketball memories, beginning on Thursday, Nov. 11 with a home game against UC San Diego.

"We built a great program here, and it's really fun to be a part of," said Mulheim, who recovered from a leg injury in time to start the season. "That was definitely something that I wanted to be a part of one more year."

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