Rueck and the OSU turnaround
CORVALLIS — The "now" is awfully good for Scott Rueck and his Oregon State women's basketball team.
Rueck's Beavers have reached the Sweet 16 at the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons, the zenith being a Final Four appearance in 2016.
Over the past six seasons, Oregon State's record is 166-42 overall, 89-19 in Pac-12 play and a remarkable 91-9 at Gill Coliseum.
Last season, OSU finished 26-8 and was third in the Pac-12.
It wasn't always that way.
When Rueck took over the program in 2010, he inherited only one player with Pac-10 experience — El Sara Greer — from a team that went 11-20 overall and 2-16 in Pac-10 play under predecessor LaVonda Wagner.
"The previous staff had recruited three incoming freshmen," Rueck says. "One was Alyssa Martin, the only one who remained all four years. And we had a JC transfer (Earlysia Marchbanks) who became eligible the day before school started.
"I was a rookie coach at this level, piecing together a staff. One of my weaknesses coming in was I did not have a network at the Pac-10 level. In many ways, I did not know what I was getting into. But I was ready for whatever challenge was in store, and I knew who I was as a coach."
Rueck had claimed an NCAA Division III championship and cranked out 13 straight winning seasons at George Fox before he arrived in Corvallis. He was going into his first season at OSU, however, with one hand tied behind his back. To augment the five scholarship players, Rueck held an open tryout at Gill. Fifty-five hopefuls showed up; only four got roster spots as walk-ons. Later, Rueck added a volleyball player and a soccer player.
"Then it was, can we keep this together through a Pac-10 schedule I couldn't even envision?" Rueck said. "From July 1, when we had my opening press conference, we're six months from playing (national power) Stanford. How are we possibly going to compete this year?"
With his makeshift lineup, Rueck found a way. The Beavers went 7-4 in the preseason, then 2-16 in conference play. But they competed, losing 10 of the league games by single digits. One of the two league victories came at Gill, where the Beavers, trailing by 20 points at halftime, rallied for a 61-59 Civil War win over Oregon.
After losing to Arizona State 50-44 in the first round of the conference tournament, Oregon State finished its first season under Rueck 9-21.
"I had not had a losing season before," Rueck says, "but that was one of the more rewarding seasons of my career — not just what we accomplished, but how we accomplished it.
"It's a year I'll never forget. It's an experience I'm glad I had. But I never want to experience it again."
Oregon State won 20 games and went .500 in league play the next season and made the Women's NIT, then struggled with a young club in 2012-13. But over the next two years, Rueck recruited the likes of Jamie Weisner, Sydney Wiese, Ruth Hamblin, Deven Hunter and Gaby Hanson, planting the seed for three straight Pac-12 championships and a perennial spot among the nation's top 20.
A Hillsboro native, Rueck — who turns 50 on July 18 — is grateful that he has been able to live in his home state and coach at his alma mater.
"It's been an honor," says Rueck, whose contract at OSU has been extended through 2027. "It's pretty unique to get this opportunity — for where I went to school, where I live and that my background is in Division III.
"We have put our heart and soul into this program. It's been an incredible journey to overcome so many things and have so many firsts in our program. It brings a smile to my face thinking back on it."
There's only one thing Rueck hasn't accomplished at Oregon State — a national championship. Can that happen?
"Why not?" Rueck asks. "I'm a why-not guy — a little guy in a big game. A lot of those little details don't matter — where you're from, what your background is. It's just, 'Are you going to get the job done? Will you do it right? Are you going to expect massive success?' I've learned that's the only way to live."
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