It’s Saturday March 13, 2010. The Rose Garden — now known as the Moda Center, and home to the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers — is full of screaming basketball fans. However, on this day these fans are not watching Brandon Roy or Travis Outlaw. Instead, they’re hoping to will their team to victory in the 2010 class 6A Oregon Girls basketball championship game. The Southridge High School Skyhawks girls basketball team is taking on Metro League rival the Jesuit Crusaders for their third 6A championship in the last four years.
When the final buzzer goes off, the scoreboard reads 47-38 in Southridge’s favor and head coach Michael Meek has just topped the state of Oregon for the fifth time in his career.
A full decade later Meek is still coaching in Portland, but now on The Bluff as the sixth head coach in University of Portland women’s basketball history. Meek now has taken the reins to a struggling program who is looking to turn it around. However, the choice for Meek was easy, especially in terms of what is most important: family.
“From a family standpoint it was really easy — my wife, the kids and I have lived in the same house for 20 years now,” Meek said. “It was really nice to be able to make a change without uprooting, now it's more about meeting new people and developing relationships.”
This 2010 championship game marked the end of an era for the Puyallup, Washington native. Meek had just won Southridge their fifth women’s basketball championship. Meek brought the school their first state championship in the sport in 2006, the same year he won the MaxPreps.com national high school coach of the year award. After an overall record of 213-58 during his time at Southridge, it was time for Meek to move on.
That move was not too far for Meek. He and his family stayed in the same family home in Beaverton. He took a job at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, his first position coaching at the college level.
Meek inherited a winning program at George Fox, a team who in the 2008-09 season were 32-0 and NCAA Division III national champions. Meek continued this tradition of winning for George Fox in his first season leading the Bruins to a 25-6 record and a run to the Elite 8.
Meek would continue to succeed throughout his eight-season stint with George Fox. He finished his time at the Division III level with a 230-35 record and two appearances in the NCAA DIII national championship game. However, after eight seasons it was time to make yet another move.
Though Meek has had a lot of success over those 20 years, this will be the first time the award-winning coach will tackle Division I basketball. A learning curve that can be just as much about the rules as it is the level of competition.
Another change would be going from a team with a lot of current success to a program that has struggled in the last decade. In fact, the only time Portland had a winning record in the past decade was the 2010-11 season. The question will be if Meek’s success at the Division III level will translate to success for the Pilots.
“The game is really the same, but there are differences in the rules,” Meek said. “Part of it is there is more time an opportunity to work with the players. Those types of changes have the biggest differences.”
Meek also now has the designation that can be tough for anyone: the new guy. Taking over a program is tough, no matter what level you are at. Meek has been in this position before, three times in fact.
However, everywhere Meek has gone there has been winning, and winning regularly. This winning is something that the program at the University of Portland has lacked in recent years. Under Meek, consistency is key.
“Consistency has been really big, he always makes us work hard,” junior guard Jayce Gorzeman said. “He is always holding us to a higher standard, he says all the time, ‘If we are up or down 15, I expect the same standards.’”
For some players, change can be hard — especially in coaching staff — when they don’t know what might be ahead. Part of making the transition smooth is understanding your players and making sure that both the coach and player are on the same page.
Part of this trust was instilled immediately when the Pilots heard about their new coach’s past success at George Fox.
“We have a really good group of girls, I think that makes it easier,” junior starting guard Maddie Muhlheim said. “Everybody was willing pretty much right away to learn from what he (Meek) has to say.”
Something has worked well this season. Portland has eclipsed its win total from last season, collecting 16 total wins, including nine conference wins.
With an attitude of enjoying what you are doing, Meek has pushed Portland to their first winning season in a decade. Though the future looks bright for the women’s basketball program, Meek and his team are not looking too far ahead.
“Meek has a good motto of taking it one game at a time,” Muhlheim said. “We are trying to go 1-0, it's not looking too far ahead or focusing too much on the past. We are trying to improve on what we did the day before.”
However, taking a look at the rest of the season for the Pilots they have just three games left to gain the best position possible for seeding in the conference tournament. Currently, the Pilots are sitting in the fourth spot in the conference.
No matter how this season plays out, the Pilots will be able to be optimistic about the future. Meek, though not focusing on the past, has found success at every level, and has started on the right foot at his new home on The Bluff.
Jamison White is a sports reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.