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Two Paths, Same Destination for EWU Women’s Basketball Seniors

Seniors+Tisha+Phillips+%28left%29+and+Ashli+Payne+%28right%29+running+down+the+court+on+Senior+Day
Seniors Tisha Phillips (left) and Ashli Payne (right) running down the court on Senior Day

Seniors Tisha Phillips (left) and Ashli Payne (right) running down the court on Senior Day

Brad Brown for The Easterner

Brad Brown for The Easterner

Seniors Tisha Phillips (left) and Ashli Payne (right) running down the court on Senior Day

By Michael Brock, for The Easterner

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For EWU’s Tisha Phillips and Ashli Payne, Friday’s 79-64 victory over Northern Arizona meant more than just clinching a first-round bye in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. It was senior night, the duo’s final game at Reese Court and a bittersweet end to a pair of illustrious careers.

During the past two seasons, Phillips and Payne were integral to the team’s success.

Equipped with lightning quick speed, remarkable court vision and a reliable outside shot, Phillips established herself as a premier point guard in the Big Sky Conference, notching 12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and four assists per game across the two seasons.

Payne, meanwhile, ranks among the best rebounders in the Big Sky, averaging 11.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Her real skill lies in her versatility. Despite standing at 6-feet tall, Payne has many attributes synonymous with a guard. In addition to handling the ball, Payne is capable from long range, where she shot 38.1 percent on the season from three-point range.

But senior night is also about reflection – taking time to appreciate one’s journey leading up to that final buzzer. When it comes to Phillips and Payne, the two had vastly different paths that ended up at EWU.

Ashli Payne was born and raised in Bremerton, Washington, where she attended Olympic High School. Despite leading the Olympic League in scoring and earning league MVP honors as a senior, Payne was not heavily recruited, and decided to go the junior college route. Payne ventured south to Roseburg, Oregon where she played for Umpqua Community College  (UCC) for two years.

Tisha Phillips grew up in Lapwai, Idaho, where she attended Lapwai High School for two years, winning one state title. Prior to her junior year, Phillips move to Lewiston, Idaho, where she led Lewiston High School to two state championships. As a senior, Phillips averaged 15 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 2.2 assists.

Payne quickly made a name for herself at UCC, and as a sophomore she led the team to a 27-5 record and a Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC) Southern Region title while averaging 17.8 points, 10 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Payne said her confidence soared at UCC, and when she arrived in Cheney, she hit the ground running.

While Payne was tearing up the NWAC, Phillips was already at EWU, waiting for her time to shine.

Dealing with shin splints, Phillips was forced to redshirt her first year. She spent the next two seasons as a reserve, scoring just 2.5 points per game in 14.5 minutes as a sophomore.

But this time was valuable, Phillips said, as she was able to learn the team’s system and improve on the necessary fundamentals needed to excel at the next level. When her minutes doubled as a junior, Phillips was ready to contribute.

“More players in all sports need to understand that you’re not always gonna play a ton as a freshman or a sophomore, but the idea is to get better and to understand the program,” said Schuller. “Tish bought into that and she has made a huge impact.”

Though their paths vary, Payne and Phillips are in unique company. Per scholarshipstats.com (using 2015-16 data), just 1.2 percent of female high school basketball players go on to play NCAA Division 1. Even fewer make it to their senior night.

Both seniors are leaving their options open upon graduation and will decide between pursuing a playing career overseas or applying to graduate school.

In the meantime, the Big Sky tournament awaits, where the Eagles will play No. 1 Montana State in the semifinals on March 10 at 12:05 p.m.

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Two Paths, Same Destination for EWU Women’s Basketball Seniors