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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/'I've learned to never underestimate a team,' says Scott Rueck, coach of Beavers women's basketball

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Marie Gulcih of Oregon State drives around Creighton defenders in a 2017 game.CORVALLIS — Scott Rueck's recent five-year extension runs his contract as Oregon State's women's basketball coach through the 2026-27 season.

There may not be a coach in America with more job security, but who is more deserving?

The man who took the Beavers from the pits of the Pac-12 in 2010 to the Final Four and three straight conference championships is basketball's version of Helen Keller, the "Miracle Worker."

Now Rueck — a four-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year and Associated Press runner-up for National Coach of the Year in each of the last two seasons — will be asked to work his magic again.

Rueck must do it without the services of four of his top six scorers from the 2016-17 squad that finished 31-5 and reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen.

Gone is All-America guard Sydney Wiese, a four-time all-Pac-12 selection and a legendary name in Oregon State women's basketball history. Also departed is guard Gabby Hanson, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Rueck has replaced greatness before, of course.

A year ago, the Beavers lost center Ruth Hamblin, a two-time all-Pac-12 selection and Defensive Player of the Year, and All-America guard Jamie Weisner from the 2015-16 team that went 32-5 and made it to the Final Four.

"You don't replace Sydney, but you couldn't replace Ruth or Jamie, either," Rueck says.

Much like Oregon State baseball's Pat Casey, Rueck has built a culture of success with his program. Over the past four years, the Beavers have amassed a 114-26 record overall, including 61-11 in Pac-12 play and 61-6 at home. The last three years, they've gone 90-15 overall and 48-6 in conference action.

The league's coaches don't think the Beavers will repeat again. They picked them to finish fourth in 2017-18 behind UCLA, Stanford and Oregon. Of course, a year ago, OSU was forecast to finish fifth.

"I've learned never to underestimate a team," Rueck says with a grin. "You can't predict. What's the point?

"This group will reach its potential. We're going to be a tough out every night. We're going to get every ounce out of this team. Will that be good enough to win the conference? I hope so. It would be fun to do it again. A year ago, I'd have told you the same thing. You just never know."

Of the 2017-18 Beavers, Rueck offers this:

"I love my players. They all came here to be part of what we've done. They're winners. They have incredible character. They're already tight-knit, and they're growing like crazy. And they need to."

Oregon State will be led by its only senior, 6-5 center Marie Gulich, a first-team all-Pac-12 selection last season while averaging 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.

"Marie came back in amazing shape and is embracing the opportunity ahead of her," Rueck says of the German native. "I've been pleased with the way she has stepped into a leadership role. She has played more than 100 games in her career here. There's so much experience. Her teammates wait on her every word. She commands respect with the way she lives her life, and also on the floor."

Mikayla Pivec will be the starting shooting guard. The 5-10 sophomore was an all-Pac-12 Freshman team selection last season, averaging 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds a game.

"Mik will be more of a focal point in the offense," Rueck says. "She'll play a more predominant role with the ball in her hands in key moments. She's a great playmaker, and we'll get to see that.

"Those moments where Sydney had the ball last year, Mik will have the ball some of those times. Her game is ready for it. Her body is ready for it. Her mind is ready for it. We'll get to see more of what she can do."

Perhaps the most important player will be junior Katie McWilliams, who could start at any one of four positions. The 6-2 South Salem High grad, who was elected by teammates as a co-captain in the spring along with Gulich, could wind up being the Beavers' point guard.

"Katie is as versatile as they come," Rueck says. "She is an amazing facilitator. I'd like to see her more aggressive on the offensive end, yet she's so savvy playing within a system. She understands the game so well. She knows where the ball needs to go."

The other two starting spots are up for grabs.

Rueck could choose to go big, using Gulich at power forward alongside 6-8 junior Joanna Grymek. Grymek, a native of Poland, is a transfer from Seward County Community College in Liberal, Kansas, where she averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks while shooting .629 on a team that finished 32-3 and reached the NJCAA quarterfinals.

"Playing against Marie every day is the best thing that ever happened to Jo — two European players, and there's comfort in that," Rueck says. "Marie has been through all the wars, and she's passing it on to Jo. There are days where Marie is making Jo look like Ruth made Marie look her first year with us.

"Jo is rising to the challenge. She's extremely coachable and has huge upside. She impacts shots at the defensive end and has good touch around the hoop."

It's more likely that Grymek will come off the bench. That would leave power forward as a battle between returning sophomores Madison Washington and Janessa Thropay and 6-3 freshman Taya Corosdale, the most-decorated recruit in the Rueck era at OSU.

Corosdale, out of Bothell, Washington, was ranked the No. 26 recruit in the country by ESPN. She averaged 18.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.1 blocks a game as a senior and helped the West to victory in the Jordan Brand Classic, featuring the nation's top prep players.

"Taya is a 'stretch 4,' a face-up player who is comfortable shooting the 3," Rueck says. "She's a similar player to (former OSU standout) Devon Hunter, multi-skilled, athletic and a good passer. Her hurdle will be how quickly she adapts physically to the college game, but she has all the tools to be a great player."

Rueck also expects major contributions from guards Kat Tudor, a 6-foot sophomore, and Taylor Kalmer, a 5-8 junior. Tudor shot .412 from 3-point range off the bench last season. Kalmer was in and out of the rotation as a backup point guard.

"It's not easy having Kat off the floor because of what she can do," Rueck says. "She impacts every possession. You have to hug the perimeter when Kat's on the floor. I'm looking for her to have a huge year.

"Taylor is as hard a worker as I've coached. Her heart is as big as anybody's in the gym. She's in the best shape of her life. With her, it's about making good decisions and learning how to compete defensively."

The other freshman is 5-9 Aleah Goodman out of La Salle Prep, a three-time Class 5A Player of the Year. Goodman could wind up backing up Pivec at the 2.

Oregon State has one other important squad member, though she'll sit out the season.

Destiny Slocum, a native of Meridian, Idaho, is a transfer from Maryland, where she was starting point guard on a team that went 32-3 and lost to Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen. The 5-7 sophomore was the WCBA National Freshman of the Year and Big Ten Freshman of the Year, averaging 11.5 points and 3.0 assists while shooting .405 from the field and .374 from 3-point range.

Slocum, who was rated as the nation's No. 4 recruit when she signed with Maryland, will practice and travel with the Beavers all season and will have three years of eligibility, beginning with the 2018-19 campaign.

"Destiny has a presence," Rueck says. "She has a spirit to her that elevates the gym. She's a winner. She just oozes confidence. She's already part of the family. It feels like she's been here a long time. She has an ability to inspire her teammates. This season, she's here to help everybody and be the best practice player she can be, while learning a lot about our system.

"Destiny is a consummate point guard. The thing I love the most is that her mind is one step ahead all the time. She's like a coach on the floor."

Defense will be the Beavers' calling card, as it was a year ago, when they ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense (54.4 points per game allowed) and seventh in opponents' field-goal percentage (.345).

"It has to be," Rueck says. "It's who we've always been. Everybody asks me who's going to be Gabby. Well, not everybody has a Gabby. It will be by committee. We all have to step our game up. With this team, they're competitors. They'll give it all they have."

The Beavers could be better next season, losing only Gulich and adding Slocum along with three high school seniors who have verbally committed — 6-9 Andrea Aquino from Paterson, New Jersey; 6-7 Patricia Morris from Duarte, California, and 5-11 Jasmine Simmons from Australia.

In the meantime, Rueck will compete — hard — with the talent on hand.

"This group has the right spirit," he says. "It's going to be about players rising into key roles that we lost a year ago. We'll coach the heck out of them. This will be the typical Oregon State team that grinds and fights and battles."

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