Loree Payne, who led the University of Puget Sound to its first clean-sweep Northwest Conference women’s basketball title, resigned Friday after seven seasons to take the head-coaching job at Northern Arizona University.
Payne replaces Robyne Bostick, who served as the Lumberjacks interim coach last season. NAU, an NCAA Division I member of the Big Sky Conference, finished with a 9-21 record.
“The most important thing for me was finding the right fit,” Payne said. “And this is a place where I truly believe we can have a lot of success. I am excited to make that change and go back to my roots of (NCAA) Division I, and have an impact on a program that has so much potential.”
Payne, a native of Havre, Montana, who was a sharpshooting guard at the University of Washington, had a remarkable run at UPS — especially lately after being named NWC coach of the year in back-to-back seasons.
The Loggers set single-season marks for wins (26) and winning percentage (26-3, a .897 clip) last season as they swept NWC play for the first time in school history. They reached the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament, losing to conference rival Whitman in Tacoma.
And Payne is leaving behind a talented roster, including four returning starters. Two of them —point guard Samone Jackson and post player Jamie Lange — were all-NWC first- and second-team selections.
Payne broke the news of her departure to the team Thursday night.
“It was tough,” Payne said. “I absolutely love this team, and love these kids. They are an incredible group that has so much potential to do huge things next year.”
In her new program, it appears Payne will have a pair of bona fide scorers to build around: senior Olivia Lucero, a Big Sky Conference third-team pick, and Raina Perez, who was one of the top freshmen in the conference last season.
Payne will be flying to Flagstaff, Arizona, next week to figure out a timeline when she will begin the new job. She said she hopes to have some of her staff in place by the end of April.