Last season, things for the Ducks women’s basketball team weren’t so great. The women were struggling in conference play and their starting lineup was ravaged with injures. The Ducks needed a boost. Two new faces walked onto the court and quickly became integral members of head coach Paul Westhead’s day-to-day operations.
Chloe Stiles and Katie Gruys mean much more to the program than minutes played. They help run the scout team and push the squad to have better cohesion in practice, which translates to the court.
Stiles, a Sheldon High School alum and Eugene resident, and Minnesota native Gruys joined the team last December after Oregon coaches saw the pair practicing.
In their first full season with the Ducks, Stiles and Gruys have learned about what it means to be a part of a college team.
Gruys, also a member of the track and field team, talked with her brother about how strange it was not to be playing after 12 years in December 2012. Just a week after the conversation, she became a member of the Oregon team.
“I didn’t get a lot of playing time, but these girls are awesome,” Gruys said. “The coaches are awesome and I’m learning a lot.”
After last season on the court, she red-shirted her spring season of track and stayed the summer in Eugene, focusing solely on basketball.
“Coach tells us that five might play on the court, but everybody has a role in this [system]. I take that completely seriously,” Gruys said. “I hope that it helps my team and that’s what I try to be.”
Gruys says that what she’s learned through practice about Westhead’s up-tempo system has taught her valuable life lessons. She says that when it seems easier just to quit, she finds the strength to move forward.
“I’ve realized that basketball is a life sport,” Gruys said. “Not necessarily that you’ll play all your life, but it teaches you a lot of things about yourself. Especially running the system, you [push] your mind, your body. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity.”
Westhead said that Stiles and Gruys are fundamental members of the team.
“They’re terrific kids,” Westhead said. “They work hard, they don’t get anything — they’re not compensated —and yet they have all the same responsibilities. They’re two of the best kids we have as far as dedication to the team and being young women are who are a credit to this university. ”
Stiles said she cherishes the opportunity to be a college athlete every day.
“I remind myself what it’s like not to be a college athlete,” Stiles said. “Some of these girls haven’t experienced that. You realize how different the lifestyle is and what it would be like to give it up. If I remind myself how blessed we are to be here, then it’s easy for me to be like, ‘come on guys, pick up.’”
Stiles says that in the beginning, having Gruys by her side helped her settle down in the program.
“Since then (last December), it’s just been like a family,” Stiles said. “Katie and I feel like we’re both meant to be here; it’s just been so amazing.”
Follow Jonathan Hawthorne on Twitter @Jon_Hawthorne