Great Expectations

Oregon’s top high school coach joins George Fox to lead the women’s basketball program

by Sean Patterson

Coach Michael Meek has to keep pinching himself: He has landed what he calls “the perfect job.” He inherits a perennial Division III power in the George Fox women’s basketball team that went 60-3 the past two years and won a national championship in 2009 under former coach Scott Rueck.

“When the job came open I was definitely interested, but it wasn’t like I knew from day one this was where I should be,” he says. “I was happy at Southridge. But once I stepped on this campus, I just knew. The more I learned, the more time I spent here, the more I realized this was the ideal situation.”

And it wasn’t just the Bruins’ track record that sold him. “As a Christian, I wanted to be in a place I truly believed in – a place that puts value in the things I value and somewhere I’d want to send my own kids to college,” said Meek, who has two girls, ages 8 and 5, with wife Lisa.

Meek knows he has big shoes to fill. Then again, he’s no stranger to winning championships himself. His teams at Southridge High School in Beaverton, Ore., won five of the last six Class 6A state championships. But Meek, 40, doesn’t broadcast his impressive record. He is humble to the core. In fact, ask him about his greatest basketball memory, and the first thing that comes to mind is an encounter he had with the father of one of his players.

“I was at La Grande High School and we had this senior girl who worked hard but didn’t play much,” he recalls. “After the season, her dad came up to me and thanked me. He told me she had had the time of her life. I’ll never forget it. It was just one of those amazing moments.”

Never mind all those buzzer-beating wins or net-cutting celebrations after another title. Meek’s fondest basketball memory came in a quiet room when a grateful father gave him a hug.
George Fox, which conducted a national search for a new head coach after Rueck left to take charge of the women’s team at Oregon State, found the ideal candidate in its own backyard. Meek posted a career record of 264-79 in 13 seasons at La Grande (1997-2000) and Southridge (2000-10), and in 2005-06 he was named the MaxPrep National Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

“We have hired Oregon’s most successful current high school girls basketball coach, and I couldn’t imagine a better fit for George Fox,” Athletic Director Craig Taylor said at Meek’s introduction as coach in July.

Mark Neffendorf, a coach who won state titles at Glencoe and Westview (Ore.) high schools, put it more emphatically: “George Fox could search the entire country and not find a better man for the job. Mike is consistent as a person both spiritually and relationally. He’s teachable – and humble.”

After a season in which the Bruins went 28-3 and reached the Elite 8 of the NCAA national tournament, you would think Meek is feeling some pressure to perform. Not a chance.

“I know we’ll be one of the conference favorites and that people will be out to get us,” said Meek, also hired to teach health and human performance classes. “Clearly the expectations are high. But I don’t focus on that stuff. I can’t worry about what others think of us or what people expect of us.”

George Fox returns two first-team all-Northwest Conference players in 5-foot-10 wing Keisha Gordon and 6-5 post Hannah Munger (pictured). All told, the team has eight returners and six promising recruits, including two all-state players.

But until he sees his players on the court – and learns more about the competition – Meek is shying away from predictions.

“I’m not a believer in putting pressure on players to win,” he says. “I emphasize working hard, being coachable, supporting your teammates and building character. You do those things well and the wins will follow.”

Meek would know.