Most Valuable Eagle

Big Sky MVP Jamie Loera reflects on a spectacular season for Eastern women’s basketball.


In a year that saw a certain shooting guard from Iowa create an extraordinary surge in the popularity of women’s college basketball, Eastern’s hoop stars also completed a season for the history books. Led by their own front-court sensation, Jamie Loera, the Eagle women earned both regular-season and tournament championships in the Big Sky Conference, scoring their first NCAA Tournament berth in 34 years. For her part, Loera, a recent master’s degree graduate in EWU’s organizational leadership program, was the unanimous MVP choice of conference coaches, while also earning her second straight Defensive Player of the Year award and a first team All-Big Sky selection. Loera, a Moses Lake native who transferred to EWU from Arizona State in 2022, announced this spring that she will forgo her final year of eligibility. Before moving on, she spoke with Eastern magazine about her role as the anchor of what many are calling the greatest-ever EWU women’s basketball team.


Thanks for taking time out to talk with us! Congratulations on an amazing season. At what point did you realize that this team was something special?

When I first arrived at Eastern [before the beginning of the 2022 season], I saw that this was a group of girls that really showed up for each other. It was a true sisterhood. And with the success we had that first year, I was like, ‘Wow!’ This team has great potential.

So knowing that —  just how good we could be —I prepared for this season trusting that we were going to be Big Sky champions. I just strongly believed that we were great, and I showed up every day with that belief.

There were a lot of us who believed, actually, and we talked about it every day. We set big goals, we set process goals. And we worked hard; we grinded all offseason and in the preseason as well. I think that was our strength: We were able to just focus on who we were as a team and focus on our preparation.


And the work paid off, for sure. Still, you and your teammates had a couple of tough defeats early on. I’m thinking of the two-point loss to Gonzaga at home, and the loss on the road to Cal — a game that you led most of the way. Two things I wanted to ask: What did Coach [Joddie] Gleason talk about after those early defeats, and what was it about you and your teammates that helped you move on to the success you enjoyed in conference play?

One of the things Coach Joddie talked about was how we had to not let [the losses] define our season; to not let them define who we are. I think that statement was just so powerful in creating a positive environment, keeping spirits up, keeping our mindset level…

When we watched the film, Coach Joddie — and all the coaching staff — made a point of highlighting the areas that we did well in. It was super beneficial for them to take some time and say, ‘Okay, what did we do well in this game?’ But also to look at those areas where we needed to grow. Like rebounding, turnovers, getting stops on defense. Those were areas that we definitely needed to improve on.

But I think it was just super reassuring for our coaches to talk about how setbacks like these were going to prepare us for much tougher moments in the future — moments in the middle of the season and at its end. So I think they were reassuring and very positive after those losses. And, you know, we actually didn’t let the losses define us. We kept moving forward.


The 2024 Big Sky Conference champions celebrate in Boise.


During that first season with the Eagles, you quickly emerged as a real force on defense, something you’ve obviously carried forward and taken to new heights. Was defense always a big part of your game? Or did it become a particular focus here at Eastern?

I want to say defense was always my strength. But I definitely give a lot of credit, especially for the knowledge that I’ve developed about defense, to my previous school, Arizona State. We were very defense oriented, and our coach took a lot of pride in emphasizing the defensive side of our system.

When it came to my own game, I really wanted to develop into a player that could make an impact on both sides of the ball. To know that, if my shot wasn’t falling or I couldn’t get a good look on offense, I could make an impact on defense. I took a lot of pride in that. So yeah, I just really focused on all of the areas I could make an impact in the game, not just on offense. But I take a lot of pride in defense, and its definitely elevated my game.


I think a lot of basketball fans — especially casual fans — don’t always appreciate how critical the defensive side of the game can be. Can you talk a little bit about the role defense played in this year’s historic season?

It plays such a significant role! Defense has kind of been getting a little bit lost in the process of, you know, the game changing: the shift to a greater emphasis on scoring and offense.

But on our team, we really took a lot of pride in understanding our opponents’ offensive systems so that we could get stops, force turnovers and limit them to one shot per possession… When you do that, you’re forcing people to change their pace on offense; forcing them to change ball movement. They’re just not going to run their offense as smoothly or as comfortably as they want to.

For us at Eastern, we scored a lot of points off turnovers. So that defensive game really pushed our momentum on offense.

Personally, as a player, I thrive off the defensive stops and big plays by my teammates. When Jaydia [Jaydia Martin, junior small forward] takes a charge, or when Jacinta [Jacinta Buckley, senior guard] blocks a shot, I get high from that! I’m like, ‘All right, let’s go! Let’s go score!’ There’s a lot of energy that comes from playing good defense.


And a lot of negative mental energy for your opponents, too. It seemed like there were so many times this year that you guys really disrupted other teams — got them rattled. Am I right?

Oh yeah. That was the goal.


As a graduate student, I’m guessing you are a little bit older than many of your teammates. Did age and experience help you take on the leadership role that you assumed with this team? Is that something you and your coaches talked about going into this year?

When I first got to Eastern, I definitely held back. Just being a new face on the roster and coming into a group that had really strong chemistry, I didn’t want to say too much. I was focused on developing relationships. Of course I think that’s part of leadership, too: building trust, building relationships on the team.

This season Coach Joddie encouraged me to take charge a little more, at least on the basketball court. And I think that was a difference between my first and second years — really taking on that role as a leader; taking more shots on offense and pushing the ball, being a little more selfish on the court.

I definitely got more comfortable having a year under my belt, after building relationships and people getting to know me. But leadership was definitely one of the key roles I had to take on, really from the time I first got to Eastern. Because our coaches believed in my experience, they believed in my abilities… they were amazing. And the girls, too: I think the girls knew that I really loved the leadership role, and loved being the sort of impact player who would do whatever I could for them.


After you and your teammates won both the Big Sky regular season and tournament championships, you came back to Cheney to prepare for a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament. But first, there was some celebrating, right? A big greeting when your bus rolled in?

My goodness, it was so cool! All of us were just so happy and excited to see everybody. The love that we got from campus was just so amazing. We were very, very happy to represent Eastern.


Then you had to go back on the road for the first round of the Big Dance. It must have been really exciting, but also incredibly daunting, to play Oregon State, a highly ranked team on their home court.

Just the idea of being in March Madness itself, you know, it’s a bit overwhelming. It had been 30 years since [Eastern women’s basketball] had been there, a long time. That just adds pressure…

Our coaches reminded us to embrace the moment, to embrace the opportunity and to have the confidence that we could win. We had played really well — matched up really well — against them last year. So we had those conversations about going out there and having fun while staying confident in our team and in our play. We absolutely thought we could make it to the second round. Wed proven ourselves, we’d been through every situation that you can think of.

We were a bit disappointed about the outcome. But, all in all, super proud, too. Just to get there, and in how we were able to represent EWU.


You were the unanimous choice for the Big Sky’s MVP, were the conference’s defensive player of the year, and a first team All-Big Sky selection.  What were you thinking and feeling when the accolades started rolling in?

Wow, I don’t know. On the day when it came out, I was just really grateful. Honestly, awards and accolades just weren’t really something that I thought about. I try to be an impact player. You know? To control what I can control. Thats how I was going to impact this team, and to help us win.

Sure, I’m definitely, selfishly, proud of myself. Its been a tough journey for me. But mostly I’m just super grateful that I could play the way I played for our team. The accolades, as I said, were never a goal for me. The goal was for our team to win, and to be the best that we could be.


Still, it must have been amazing to experience the outpouring of support you received… 

That’s all I could really focus on! I was just overwhelmed with love and gratitude, Yeah, just super, super grateful. It was a humbling experience. But like everything else, I was just trying to stay present in each moment, and to focus on not getting too high or getting too low.


Speaking of lows — at least for your many fans here at EWU —  I’m told you are not planning to exercise your remaining year of eligibility? Is that a done deal, or might you reconsider?

I definitely made the decision not to take it right now, and Im just looking to move forward to a position where I can continue to make an impact on the game.  I am very excited for what’s to come. And I know that EWU has my back, always!


— Interview by Charles E. Reineke. Photos by Braeden Harlow. Questions and responses have been edited for length and clarity.