When Brianne Ryan left Lynden Christian to begin her basketball career at Eastern Washington University in 2008, she was looking for an opportunity to be an integral part of a team and improve her game.
Ryan found her place with Eagles. She also became arguably the most decorated player in the history of the EWU women's basketball program.
"She had an unbelievable career - I mean really special all the way around," Eastern Washington University women's head coach Wendy Schuller said in a phone interview. "I have to say when you look back at her accomplishments and everything she's done, she has to be one of the greatest players in school history. I know I feel fortunate, and the rest of the coaching staff feels fortunate, to have the opportunity to coach someone with her ability."
During Ryan's four year career with Eastern, the former Lynden Christian star compiled a trophy haul, which includes All-Big Sky first team selections her senior and junior year, a Big Sky MVP award as a senior, a Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore and a handful of Big Sky All-Academic awards.
Ryan became the first women's basketball player in Big Sky history to win a conference MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award during a career. She averaged a conference-best 19.3 points per game as a senior.
"It's pretty special," said Ryan of her MVP award and of being billed as one of the best players who's been though the EWU women's basketball program. "It makes me feel respected by all the coaches and the athletic department. In a league like the Big Sky, it's cool to know that I'm respected by other coaches and players in the league."
While Ryan is honored to receive her accolades, she said she's the kind of person who prefers to be out of the spotlight. Her attitude fits what Schuller believes is Ryan's greatest accomplishment as an Eagle.
"Besides the fact she was great individually, she was a huge part in taking our team to new heights," Schuller said. "In the end, I think that is the legacy anybody wants to leave a program with - leaving it in a better spot than it was when they got there."
The year before Ryan moved to Cheney, the Eagles program struggled.
Eastern went 4-25 during the 2007-08 season and won a single Big Sky game.
Two years later, Ryan helped Eastern win its first regular season conference title in program history. EWU put together a 19-12 record. Ryan averaged 9.1 points per game and won her Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year award.
"Gamewise (my career highlight was) when we won the Big Sky championship my sophomore year," Ryan said.
Shortly after Ryan's breakout senior season, she began receiving recognition from WNBA scouts.
Ryan found herself on a list of top WNBA prospects on www.wnba.com. She also was recognized as one of the top perimeter scorer in the 2012 draft on www.swishappeal.com.
Ryan elected to forgo the draft to finish her schooling. She'll graduate spring 2013 with a double major in accounting and management systems.
Even if Ryan were finished with school, she's not certain she'd be interested in pursuing a basketball career after college.
"I'm not looking to go to the WNBA," Ryan said. "If that was a dream of mine, I'd play. It depends on next year and if I keep playing. I might play overseas, but the WNBA has never really been a dream of mine."
Schuller said she's thrilled Ryan decided to finish school, but added Ryan would have no problem playing at a higher level if she chose to do so.
"Oh definitely," Schuller said with no hesitation about Ryan's ability to play in the WNBA. "I think a big part of that is her athletic ability. She's tall. She's over 5-10, and she is tremendously athletic. She's fast. She's in great shape, and she's such a hard worker sometimes I had a hard time taking her out of games, because she would never get tired. I'm pleased she wants to finish school. She's an outstanding student, as well."
One thing is certain: If Ryan decides to play at the next level, she's proved she has the hard work and dedication to make it happen.
Ryan said she didn't necessarily set a goal to win the defensive MVP, become an all-conference player or develop into a conference MVP, but she did dedicate herself to improving in areas she received Big Sky accolades for.
"Honestly, it's really weird, but before my sophomore year I decided I wanted be the best defensive player," Ryan said. "The next year, I wanted to be on the first team. My senior year I wanted to be the MVP. It was nice to have something that could be attainable."
Ryan said she is enjoying her time off from basketball - given the hard work she has put in the past four years - while she focuses on school. Ryan's sister and more recent Lynden Christian basketball standout, Kayleigh Ryan, will be a redshirt freshman for the Eagles this winter.
"I'm sure I'll play in some open gyms with (the EWU women's team)," Ryan said. "I'm excited to be done. It's a lot of commitment for four years. I want to focus on schooling, because I have a heavy load. I'm sure I'll have time to play."
Although Ryan will be remembered as one of the top Eastern players to grace EWU's Reese Court, her time in Cheney was not always easy. She has a bit of advice for other Whatcom County athletes hoping to leave a mark on a university once their playing days are over.
"I'd say no matter how hard it is your freshman year, you have to keep working as hard as possible," Ryan said. "There were moments my freshman year when I wanted to quit, but there is nothing better than playing college basketball."
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.