There are a few more bullet points that Loree Payne can now check off on her five-year plan as the University of Puget Sound women’s basketball coach:
• With a second-place finish — and a 22-3 record — the Loggers are in their fourth Northwest Conference postseason tournament. They have never had a losing season, either.
• With that high of a finish, they get to host their first playoff game Thursday against Whitworth at Memorial Fieldhouse.
• That 22-3 mark is a single-season school record for winning percentage.
• Bent on becoming one of the NWC’s best offensive squads, UPS scored 96 points in a game against Pacific earlier this season — a single-game school record.
Of course, one big one remains — getting to the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time. If the Loggers win Thursday, they would be in good shape to earn at least an at-large berth. And if they win both games in the conference tournament, they will take the NWC’s automatic bid.
“I’ve told them, ‘You’ve almost arrived,’ ” Payne said. “This is a moment you can allow yourself to soak it all in.”
You can also say Payne has arrived as well in her first head coaching stint.
All that she has accomplished in basketball has come in the Northwest. A Havre, Montana, native, Payne was best known as the lights-out, long-distance shooter on three NCAA Division I tournament-bound University of Washington squads (2001-03). She still holds or shares six UW records.
Then she turned to coaching, becoming an assistant at Northwest Nazarene in Idaho, the University of Portland and then as the recruiting coordinator at UW.
When Suzy Barcomb left UPS to take the top job at Cal State East Bay, the Loggers hired Payne as her replacement.
Payne’s style is drastically different in key areas than Barcomb’s. For starters, the Loggers play at a faster tempo, trying to get up as many shots as possible. And the new UPS coach allows her players to read and react — or freestyle — more than Barcomb did.
But to put her stamp on the program, Payne had to make constant adjustments.
“We’ve gone through ups and downs to figure out the type of program I wanted to be as a first-time coach,” Payne said. “We were always fine-tuning. Those first couple of years, we did things by fire to see what worked and what did not.”
A classic example was the different defensive systems Payne tried to employ. After being a man-to-man team in her inaugural season in 2010-11, Payne went to the pack line defense in the second season — something taught to her by current UW coach Mike Neighbors while he was a Huskies assistant.
“It didn’t work for us,” Payne said. “The next year, we went back to aggressive man-to-man defense.”
Payne’s real background is in offensive basketball. And she has taken “bits and pieces” from the college systems she played and coached in, and formed the type of motion offense UPS runs today.
“It was hard — I am not going to pretend it wasn’t,” UPS senior post player Katy Ainslie said. “But we bought into everything she taught, and we made adjustments on what she saw, and what we saw as players. She was open to what we thought, and that has helped us grow.”
With that group of seniors who have been here from the beginning of the Payne era — Ainslie; point guards Ashley Agcaoili and Olivia Roberts; and forwards Erin Stumbaugh and Amanda Forshay — it has all clicked for the Loggers this season.
“You look at their scoring average, and the shots they create, it is what Loree did well,” Whitworth coach Helen Higgs said. “You tend to go to what you know and teach well because that is how you were trained. So I see her personality and stamp on that team offensively.
“She has built it the right way. Loree allows them a little more freedom ... but they play hard, and now understand how to run her system.”
Payne is the first to give her seniors full credit for maintaining their faith in her during what was a sometimes-bumpy ride.
“It is completely different for me now,” Payne said. “Back (in the beginning), you don’t know what you don’t know. You have an idea how things should be, and then you understand very quickly it might not be the way you had planned it.
“To adjust is huge. And these seniors have been through all of it — the switches in defense, the ups and downs in how tight a ship we ran. For them to stay the course through it all, it shows character, because it has definitely been a wild ride.”