Lady Eagles head coach leaves for Oregon

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Kassie Villars

The Lady Eagles won three State Championships under Stephenie Wheeler-Smith and went undefeated against in-state teams.

Makala Roper and Alexia Mefi, Staff Writers

If ever there were someone to represent the lead character of a video game, Lady Eagles’ Head Coach Stephenie Wheeler-Smith is it. Gobbling up the competition like Ms. Pac-Man, Wheeler-Smith plowed through the Metro League before swallowing the ghosts of the 3A Conference.

But now, Wheeler-Smith has gone as far as she can go and is going out on top. She, along with her husband Derrick, is hitting the “Play Again” button, but this time, she’ll be playing in Oregon.

Stephenie has been hired as the Director of Basketball Operations for the University of Oregon.

She made her way to the Eagles’ nest in 2008, fresh off a stint as an assistant coach at Seattle Prep. She quickly turned the team into a powerhouse, winning three State Championships in five years (2010, 2013, 2014) and a third place finish in 2012.

Stephenie has accomplished quite the record at Cleveland; she is considered one of the best coaches in the school’s history. Her trophy case proves it. She’s earned Coach of the Year honors at both the city and state levels.

Although she loved coaching high school basketball, Stephenie’s dream has always been to coach at the college level. So when opportunity knocked, she opened the door.

“I took this opportunity to be the Director of Basketball at the University of Oregon because it is a great one,” Stephenie explained. “It is very rare that a high school coach jumps from high school to a major D1 organization. Simply, the Lord has opened a door for me.” It also didn’t hurt that Oregon is her home state.

Stephenie has always maintained that she would one day coach college basketball. This puts her one step closer.

Along with the new job, the Wheeler-Smiths are also expecting another baby. While they don’t know the sex of the baby just yet, both she and Derrick are very happy to be adding to their family. 

“This is an absolute blessing!” Stephenie exclaimed. “God has been so faithful to Derrick and [me]. I’ve always wanted Judah to have someone to grow up with.” 

Before leaving, Stephenie has some tips for the future coach that will step in to fill in her shoes.

“Please, please, please coach the “whole” kid! These young ladies are precious gifts and should be treated accordingly,” she said. Stephenie also said the new coach should “have fun, set the bar high and keep growing.” She advises the new coach to leave their own mark and coach the way they know how. 

The Wheeler-Smiths’ departure adds to an already-transitioning team. The Lady Eagles lost four key players and will have only two seniors next season: Jayde Christopher and Joyce Harrell. 

Stephenie left some words of wisdom for the players she will no longer coach.

“Be coachable. Don’t settle for second best. Push each other to be better,” she advised. “Continue building upon what you’ve been a huge part of creating.” 

Stephenie added that she loves each and every one of the players and is sad to leave them behind. Stephenie summed up this new endeavor with this: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. What the world needs is people who have come alive.”

The Wheeler-Smiths will leave for Oregon in late June.