Deven Hunter kisses the trophy after the Lady Beavers beat Baylor 60-57 on March 28 to advance to the Final Four. (OREGON STATE ATHLETICS/Karl Maasdam)

Deven Hunter kisses the trophy after the Lady Beavers beat Baylor 60-57 on March 28 to advance to the Final Four. (OREGON STATE ATHLETICS/Karl Maasdam)

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Deven Hunter believed from Day One, even when there was reason not to.

When the McNary senior signed with Oregon State on a Wednesday morning before school in November of 2011, the Lady Beavers had only won nine games the season before and hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1996.

“I wasn’t looking at the record as much,” said Hunter, who chose OSU over offers from Arizona and Kansas State because of her familiarity with the Corvallis campus and the vision of new head coach Steve Rueck. “I definitely saw past that and the potential.”

Hunter also looked at who else was joining her and a recruiting class that featured three of the top 100 players in the country in Jamie Weisner, Ruth Hamblin and Samantha Siegner.

“Our freshmen class coming in, we wanted to make it to the Final Four and we wanted to change the program around,” Hunter said. “Definitely that was our goal that we set out coming in as freshmen. We knew we were a special group of people. We knew we had something special.”

Hunter’s first season didn’t go as planned as OSU went 10-21 overall and 4-14 in the Pac-12 Conference, playing in front of home crowds that averaged less than 1,200 people.

But with another strong recruiting class, the Lady Beavers began to make their turnaround during Hunter’s sophomore campaign.

On Dec. 29, 2013, she pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds as OSU nearly upset No. 2 ranked Notre Dame in front of more than 4,000 fans at Gill Coliseum.

The Lady Beavers finished the season 24-11 and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament.

As a No. 9 seed, OSU defeated Middle Tennessee 55-36 in the first round before falling to top seeded South Carolina 78-69 in the second round. The following season, the Lady Beavers topped California 73-55 to capture their first Pac-12 regular season title in program history. They went 16-2 in conference play and earned a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament but were upset by Gonzaga in the second round.

Hunter had one more season to make her dream come true.

Hunter recorded a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds in just 15 mintues to open the 2015-16 season with a easy win over Longwood.

After losses to Tennessee, Notre Dame and UCLA, the Lady Beavers swept rival Oregon 60-33 and 59-45.

On Jan. 1, OSU hosted Stanford, who it hadn’t beat since 2001.

Hunter made sure to put an end to that losing streak, leading the Lady Beavers with 19 points, highlighted by a career-high five 3-pointers, and 12 rebounds in a 58-50 victory.

On March 6, OSU got revenge on the Lady Bruins, 69-57, to win its first Pac-12 tournament title.

As a 2-seed, the Lady Beavers blew out St. Bonaventure 69-40 to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.

OSU then topped DePaul 83-71 to play No. 1 seed Baylor for a shot of the Final Four. Hunter pulled down seven rebounds in a 60-57 win for the historic berth.

Up next was undefeated and three-time defending national champion UCONN.

Like all the other teams that had tried to dethrone the Lady Huskies, OSU fell 80-51 in front of more than 15,000 people in Indianapolis and millions more around the world watching on ESPN.

In the title game, Syracuse didn’t have any better luck, losing to UCONN 82-51.

“Their starting five is amazing,” Hunter said of the champions. “The game didn’t go the way we wanted it to but it was definitely a good learning experience and just making it to the Final Four was an awe moment.”

Hunter finished her career with 893 rebounds, good for fourth in Oregon State history and tied for 31st in Pac-12 history. She scored 946 points, had 262 assists, 86 steals, 46 blocks and played in every game over the course of her four-year career, starting 132 of 135.

She was three times named Pac-12 Academic Honorable Mention.

“It’s crazy what we were able to accomplish over four years,” she said. “It’s still so surreal, even to this day, like it never happened, definitely a shock.”

Last week, Hunter was back in a high school gym watching her old AAU team, Oregon Elite, and her younger sister, Sydney, who has her own college basketball career ahead of her.

In August, Hunter will travel to Puerto Rico to play professionally for three months with former OSU teammate Ali Gibson. She would then like to play in Europe.