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Kerry Eggers on Sports: 'Never seen anyone as selfless,' says her coach at Oregon State, Scott Rueck

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon State's Mikayla Pivec (left) goes after a loose ball during a game last weekend against Oregon.CORVALLIS — There is so much to Mikayla Pivec, it almost can't be covered in a single story.

Oregon State's multi-faceted senior co-captain is an excellent player and a generational person in the Beavers' women's basketball program.

Coach Scott Rueck could fill up an article with quotes about Pivec, and he has as much ammo in the "person" category as the "player." Rueck said Pivec would rather her teammates have success than her.

"'Mik' lives her life in a way where she's wanting to help everyone around her so much," Rueck said. "She's a caretaker. She performs for others without thought of herself. She's selfless in amazing ways."

Team success is Pivec's biggest goal, and she is doing what she can to lead the charge for one of the best teams in the country. Oregon State is having an excellent season, and she hopes this year's Beavers can provide the one team achievement missing from her resume — a Final Four appearance.

"That's our ultimate goal," Pivec said. "Nobody on this team has been to a Final Four. Our coaches have experienced it (in 2016), but the players haven't. That's what we're striving for.

"It's still a huge possibility for us. We'll take it a game at a time and realize that each of these games are important toward achieving that ultimate goal."

Pivec, 22, is playing out the final weeks of a storybook career at Oregon State. She was on the midseason watch list for the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy and Wade Trophy — all given to the nation's top player — and the Miller Award, which recognizes the game's top small forward. The 5-10 Lynnwood, Washington, native also was one of 15 players named to the Naismith Trophy midseason all-defensive team.

Pivec ranks among the top 10 on the Oregon State career list in many categories, including scoring (ninth, 1,459 points), rebounds (third, 922) and assists (sixth, 453). Barring injury, she will finish as the only player in OSU history to reach 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists. She has scored in double figures in 52 of her last 56 games.

Pivec was named all-Pac-12 last season in leading Oregon State to its fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. Last summer, she was a starter on the U.S. team that won the silver medal at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

This season, Pivec was named Most Valuable Player as the Beavers won the Preseason WNIT. Going into Thursday's game at Colorado, she was No. 2 on the team in scoring (behind close friend and guard Destiny Slocum) and leads in rebounds, assists and steals.

Stats are not what Pivec's about, however. She does whatever she can to help her team win. As a freshman, she was the starting small forward on a team that went 31-5, won the Pac-12 championship and reached the Sweet 16. Pivec was OSU's second-best player behind center Marie Gulich as a sophomore, playing point guard on a team that made the Elite Eight. Last season, Pivec moved to shooting guard and led the team in scoring (15.2) and rebounds (9.2) and was second in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage (.526).

This season, it's been back to small forward for Pivec, who is averaging 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists. She ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounds and is fourth in field-goal percentage (.538).

"Each year, you know the system a little bit better," she said. "I've had people give me tips, show me the ropes in terms of what I had to expect at each position. It's been interesting learning different positions. It has helped my game grow.

"My preference is shooting guard. It's my most natural position, the one I'm most comfortable at. But I'll play whatever the team needs."

Rueck believes Pivec is as good an all-around player as anyone this side of Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu.

"Mik's impact on the game is so dynamic," Rueck said. "She's still developing as a playmaker. She's a scorer, no question — that's what she's always done. But now she impacts in so many ways, because she makes so many plays and she is rebounding incredibly well.

"Mik's not a playmaker to the level of Sabrina; nobody is. But she is absolutely in that conversation."

Every player says she'll do anything she can to help her team win. Only a few walk the walk.

'Mik prepares herself physically so she can be more impactful for us," Rueck said. "I've never felt in any way it's for personal gain. She feels a responsibility to get the most out of herself, but her motivation is always for others.

"Any time she has come up short or made a mistake, you see the disappointment in her face, that she is letting people down. It's not about her. It's in her personality to take care of them. That's how she operates."

In his decade at Oregon State, Rueck has coached All-Americans Gulich, Ruth Hamblin, Jamie Weisner and Sydney Wiese.

"From an all-around standpoint — rebounding, assists and scoring and playmaking ability — it's hard to say I've coached somebody as good (as Pivec)," Rueck said. "I don't know if I've coached a better rebounder. If you encompass all those things, it's hard to beat what Mikayla has done."

Barring injury, Pivec should pass Hamblin and Tanja Kostic to become OSU's career rebound leader. This from a player who has spent half her career at guard. After Gulich graduated, though, the Beavers have needed her work on the boards. Despite her size, she rans second in the Pac-12 in rebounds this season at 9.4 per game.

"It's about relentless pursuit of the ball," Pivec said. "I'm in pretty good shape. I ran cross country in high school, so I have a motor. And I think I anticipate well. I watch the flight of the ball and try to see where it's going. I'm not the quickest or the strongest, but I continually go after the ball."

Pivec enjoys a strong relationship with Rueck and assistants Jonas Chatterton, Brian Holsinger and Katie Faulkner.

"They're a huge reason why this program is successful," Pivec said. "They recruit good players, but their system and the way they interact with the team is what makes this program special. Getting to know them as people and getting to spend time with them has been a joy."

Enough about basketball for a moment.

Let's mention at least a portion of Pivec's off-court pursuits, which are too voluminous to cover in full.

She was named to the all-Pac-12 Academic Team as a sophomore and junior and was an Academic All-American last season. She graduated in three years with a 3.93 GPA and degree in bio-health sciences. She is working on a masters in biochem and biophysics, a pursuit that will be interrupted by her rookie season in the WNBA this spring.

Pivec and Slocum represent women's basketball on Oregon State's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and serves as its chair for community service activities. She recently was named as a candidate for the Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) Award at Oregon State, given to student-athletes to encourage them to use their platform to make a positive impact as leaders of the community. During the summer of 2018, Pivec and Slocum traveled to the Dominican Republic as part of the annual Beavers Beyond Borders service trip.

In November, the Institute for Sport and Social Justice — based in Orlando — named her as its Playmaker of the Month. The award is given to one male and one female student-athlete across the country who exemplifies the institute's motto of "changing lives through the power of sport."

It's a reflection of the numerous hours Pivec has found time to volunteer for worthy causes on campus and in the Corvallis community.

"I knew who she was before she got here," Rueck said. "I didn't quite understand the level at which she would take everything in. But I understood we were adding a person who was going to continue the legacy we had set for us by Ruth and Jamie and Syd and our other great players.

"I've never seen anyone who is quite as selfless as she is. The amount of time and effort Mik has put into external outreach activities and the way she takes on leadership roles — she has done four times what Syd did or anybody else I've coached has done. It's incredible. I've never had somebody with quite the level of outward focus of Mikayla Pivec."

Why? Why does Pivec make the effort?

"As a student-athlete, you want to be known for more than just being an athlete," Pivec said simply. "I want to make an impact off the court, too. That's what I've tried to do."

How does she find time to work in basketball, academics and community service?

"I try to prioritize everything I need to do immediately," Pivec said. "I've learned to be proactive and productive in the time I have. I have a planner that I look at every day and a list that I cross off when I get something done."

Said Rueck: "Her sense of purpose is demonstrated by her efficiency every day. She get the most out of every minute. There are no idle moments. She's either working to get better or helping someone else."

Pivec credits the job her parents, Michael Pivec and Pam Paudler, did in raising Mikayla and her younger sister, Malia.

"I'm biased, but I think they're the best parents any kids could have," Pivec said. "They taught us to be resilient, work through adversity and to cherish relationships."

Pivec is projected to go in the first round of April WNBA draft.

"It's a dream I've had since I was a little kid, playing basketball with the boys on the concrete during recess in elementary school," she said. "It's something I've worked hard to attain. As I'm getting older, it's becoming more and more of a possibility. I'm going to finish out this season to the best of my ability and then figure out what my next step is."

Once her playing career is over, Pivec is in position for a second meaningful career.

"Even if I have long pro (basketball) career — maybe 10 years — I'll be 32 and still have the rest of my life ahead of me," she said. "I'd like to go to medical school once my playing days are done. I'd like to be either a pediatrician or a psychiatrist."

Dr. Pivec sounds appropriate — in the medical field, or on the basketball court. Works fine either way.

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@kerryeggers


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