January 7, 2023
How Haylee Andrews has taken the Pilots from grounded to soaring
The senior from Australia has been one of the main catalysts behind the turnaround of the Portland program
Sitting in the locker room at the Orleans Arena after a first-round loss in March of 2019, Haylee Andrews wasn’t thinking about the future. She had just finished her freshman season at Portland with the Pilots, finishing their season 13-17, the best record they’d had under then head coach Cheryl Sorensen. At that time, Andrews didn’t know that Sorensen was about to be relieved of her duties and replaced by Michael Meek. She didn’t know that over her next four years, the Pilots would reach heights they hadn’t seen since the mid-90’s. However, looking back on all of it, Andrews probably wouldn’t have changed any part of her journey.
Andrews, a 5’10 guard from Townsville, Australia, started playing basketball at the age of eight. She joined one of her cousin’s junior club teams and fell in love with the game. As a kid, she kept setting goals for herself and achieving them, so she just kept setting higher goals for herself. She was soon recognized as a talented young player and eventually ended up getting the opportunity to be a development player with the Townsville Fire, a WNBL team, Australia’s version of the WNBA.
As she got older and developed into a star player, Andrews had to make a tough decision — stay home and play in the WNBL or travel to the United States and play college basketball. Andrews played with a couple of Pac-12 stars on her WNBL team in Sydney Wiese and Micaela Cocks, who both told her that playing college basketball would be the best experience of her life; so Andrews decided to take the leap.
“They kind of convinced me it’s best four years of your life and as they said the WNBL was always going to be back home in Australia, but I’m not gonna get a chance to go to college again,” Andrews told The Next. “One of the men’s assistant coach’s knew me from back home and he told the women’s team coaches about me, and then I came on my visit. I liked the small campus and the community type vibe, and I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I could make an impact.”
After arriving in the Rose City, Andrews flourished in her first year. She led the Pilots in assists, was second in rebounds and second in the WCC among freshman in scoring at 11.8 points per game. However, her success didn’t translate to team success and after a fifth consecutive season with a losing record under then head Cheryl Sorensen, Portland decided to make a change.
Through the hiring process, the Pilots zeroed in on Michael Meek, a Division III head coach from in-state George Fox. Meek had replaced Scott Rueck at George Fox after he left to become the head coach at Oregon State. Meek brought with him a ton of success from George Fox. He’d taken two of his teams to D-III championship game appearances and had been named D-III coach of the year in 2012. Andrews was a part of Meek’s interview process and saw exactly what he could bring to the Portland program.
“It’s funny because there was three of us that went into the interview process with him and he sits down and he just has this like, fat playbook and his basketball goals, and we were like, ‘Oh, wow’. Then, as Meek kind of does, he talks a lot and he gets really nervous and he just kind of kind of chatted us away,” Andrews said about meeting Meek the first time. “It was really nice to hear what his goals were for the program, and then obviously the team and just what it meant to him like outside of basketball just like creating culture. And I think his view on creating a good culture off the court really grew on us.”
In the Pilots’ first year under Meek, they flourished. They won 20+ games for the first time since the 1996-97 season. They also finished with an above .500 record in WCC play for the first time in over 10 years. The Pilots finished fourth in the WCC, despite being picked to finish dead last in the preseason. Then, in the WCC tournament, Portland pulled off a stunning upset over No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the semifinals and knocked off San Diego to claim their second ever WCC championship. Andrews hit the game winning shot in both the semifinal and finals victory.
In that second season, Andrews flourished, scoring 16 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five and a half assists per game. She was 17 in the nation in assists, leading the WCC in that category and was fourth in the conference in scoring. Andrews had tremendous growth under Meek in his first season and he wasn’t a tad bit surprised.
“I think Haley, not only has she obviously been our point guard and a very determined player. I think that she’s done a really good job of fighting through adversity. When the games not going well, she’s done a really good job by helping our team fight through that. When we won it that year you look at a lot of the big plays down the stretch. She was a big part of the player that was making those plays,” Meek told The Next. “She plays with great vision and she also rebounds and she’s also a really good defender. She’s also the somebody on the court that actually is very good at communicating calls on the fly. We go in and out of defenses, sometime even mid-possession and she’s somebody that really does a great job of communicating those things out.”
Winning the WCC championship was a big deal for the Pilots as it was their first conference championship since 1994. However, it didn’t have the happy ending they’d hoped for, as the NCAA tournament they had worked so hard to qualify for was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that didn’t stop the Andrews and the Pilot success train.
In the 2020-21 season, the Pilots once again finished above .500 including a 9-8 record in conference play. This qualified them for the WBI tournament where they advanced to the championship game before losing to Cleveland State. This season, Andrews had her best statistical season. She led the WCC in scoring in conference games, averaging 18.1 points, and was ninth in the country in total assists. She scored a career high 31 against Pepperdine and her fourth double-double of the year came in the WBI championship game loss.
“I just think from a very young age I’ve been very competitive. My dad and brother played AFL, my mom played volleyball, so basketball was never in the family besides my cousin who got me to play and since then, I’ve always just wanted to be the best as I can on the court even even like off the court. So learning the game I watch a lot of basketball. I watch a lot of girls and I want to try to create my game to be like them, but also, create my own game,” Andrews said.
Going into her senior season, Andrews was ready to take the Pilots back to the NCAA tournament. She got off to a great start to her season before the unexpected happen. In early February, in a home game against then No. 16 BYU Andrews tore her ACL. The Pilots went on to defeat the Cougars without Andrews in BYU’s only regular season WCC loss last year, but it cost them Andrews for the rest of the season. The Pilots bounced back to another 20-win season which included their first ever win in the WNIT against Colorado State. The ACL tear really shook Andrews, but she wasn’t going to let it slow her down.
“When I did it, you kind of look at it as that’s something that would never happen to you. I have seen my teammates do it. I’ve seen a bunch of girls do it who I follow and look up to so when I did it; I didn’t think I tore my ACL. I was kind of in denial for a solid probably 24 hours honestly,” Andrews said. “Then when I went and saw the doctor and he told me I tore my ACL it was just heartbreaking. A lot of emotions, obviously very upset, not the news anyone wants to hear but also at the same time I was super happy that our team came together and stuck the grit out to beat BYU in that game.”
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Andrews missed the first seven games of the Portland season rehabbing from her torn ACL before returning on November 30. Once she returned, she was on a minutes restriction which was lifted in the Pilots second conference game of the year. Andrews got off to a slow start but since WCC play has started, she has been on a tear. Through five WCC games, Andrews is averaging 14.6 points, five rebounds and 6.3 assists in conference play and helped lead the Pilots to a 5-0 start in conference play. Her coach isn’t surprised by Andrews’ resilience after her torn ACL.
“She just has done an awesome job of attacking her rehab. One thing that was cool, the very first practice that she was back live, it was just a quick reminder of how good she is because she just does so many things well. I think she’s done a really good job of not playing hesitant, she’s really asserted herself,” Meek said. “You can really see with each game her gaining more confidence with her health but also she was able hit the court running right away because she was so engaged when she was out.”
By the time her career is over, Andrews’ name will be all over the Portland record books. She currently sits third all-time in assists, just three back of second and 64 behind the all-time career leader. She sits sixth all time in scoring and is 91 points away from fourth. However, individual accolades aren’t what matter to Andrews. She cares about what she and her team have accomplished and where they have set the bar for Portland women’s basketball.
“Definitely proud of not only myself but also the girls that have done it and have been through the program and here now on but also graduated. It’s just a huge accomplishment that the Portland program and the coaches have done to get us back on the map in a way and now hopefully it’s just keep going from here and keep creating that winning culture,” Andrews said. “I think probably my biggest growth is just my ability to get my teammates open and share the ball. I like to see my teammate score and I like to give them the ball and create opportunities for them. It makes basketball so much more fun for me when my teammates are having fun. So as long as we’re having fun, then that’s all that matters.”
When Andrews started, the Pilots were stuck in neutral. Now she is a big reason why they are soaring to new heights every season. She feels that she isn’t the direct driving force behind Portland’s success, but her competitiveness has helped set the standard for the Pilot program and she has helped the other players around her reach their potential. She is proud of everything the program has accomplished while she’s been there. Andrews’ has been the catalyst to turning this Portland program around which has come as a surprise to absolutely no one in the Rose City.
“I think she’s been a really good teammate…I think that on the court, just her versatility, like she’s not been somebody that just been a good scorer. She’s improved on her shooting because she works on her game. Her leadership on the court, she’s just been a really good leader for this team. I think we’re seeing that as she’s coming back and getting healthier with each game. Just how much that she brings. She’s been great to coach,” Meek said.
Written by Matthew Walter
Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.