Portland State’s women’s basketball team plays its last home game of the season against Montana Saturday afternoon at the Stott Center. For seniors Heidi Stuart and JJ Magee, and junior Lisa Thomas, it will be the last time they lace it up for a home crowd. For fans, it’s one last chance to thank the players that have helped make an otherwise frustrating season positive.
Heidi Stuart’s player profile reads like a senior team captain’s profile should: high school team MVP all four years, second team All-State and league MVP her final two seasons, a four year D-1 varsity player who has spent her entire career at Portland State. In her first career game as a true freshman back in 2001-02 she canned a three pointer at the buzzer to give the Vikings an 80-78 double overtime win over Texas A&M.
Stuart was lost with three games left last year to an ACL tear and still came back in time to start her senior season. After sustaining another less serious injury to the same knee a month ago, Stuart has nonetheless continued to soldier on and provide the leadership necessary to keep her young team glued together.
"Heidi is one of those players that you just cannot replace," head coach Charity Elliott said of Stuart. "She’s given us all she had." One can hardly argue with Elliott’s appraisal of the Waldport, Ore., native. The 5-9 guard has played all five positions this season. Stuart matched up against both 6-2 centers and 5-4 point guards, all while adding 8.5 points a game and dishing out a team leading 54 assists as of Feb. 23.
Her sacrifices may not be seen in the win/loss column or even the box score, but they are no doubt seen in the tremendous work ethic the Vikings have displayed throughout the year. "Every day we’ve come out and practiced hard, win or lose," Stuart said. "I think this year was a huge learning year for the team. We’ve set the tone."
Helping set that tone is JJ Magee, a JC transfer from San Jose City College who barely played her junior season. Since then she broke the starting lineup and has been a major contributor with her energy and range as either a starter or more recently filling in the sixth man role. Magee set a PSU record for consecutive free throws made with 29 in a row and is averaging 8.1 points a game on the year.
"When JJ comes to play, she gives us something that no one else can," Elliott said. "I’m hoping she can end her career on a high note."
The team has become family to Magee, a resident of Fresno, Calif. "I’ve had a lot of fun this year," Magee said. "I’m excited but it’s about time for me to graduate. It’ll be tough to leave my family, though."
Like Stuart, Magee realizes that this year is a building block to future success for the program. "I’m looking forward to watching this team next season and seeing a couple of wins."
Also leaving after the season is reserve center Lisa Thomas, a 6-3 volleyballer who came in mid-season and has added some depth to the thin Viking bench. "Lisa just wanted a chance to play," Elliott said. "She has been incredibly positive and hard-working for us." Thomas has played in 17 games and is averaging 2 points and 2 rebounds off the bench.
The ride isn’t quite over for the Vikings. There are still three games to play, including Saturday’s game. And while the chances are extremely slim, if the Vikings can manage to win out the season, they have a shot at the Big Sky tourney.
Though the path to Senior Night has been tough, Stuart has gained the perspective that only a senior can have. "No matter how hard it was I’m thankful for the experience of the last four years," she said. "We went through a lot this season, but the awesome thing is we’re all still here to finish it off together."