OLYMPIA – Like any husband and wife who are in the same profession, Mychael and Monica Heuer understand each other’s triumphs and struggles.
Not much needs to be said when one arrives home late after a loss; stats and facial expressions tell the story of a game and a sport they’ve coached for 20-plus years. Yet, a victory can spark a mutual excitement for the other one’s success.
But once they arrive at their home on Olympia’s west side, they set aside their titles as head women’s college basketball coaches – Monica at The Evergreen State College and Mychael at South Puget Sound Community College. They’re simply husband and wife, and dad and mom to their 7-year-old son, Alex.
“We have to make sure we’re a family first,” Mychael Heuer said.
Basketball isn’t a 24-hour-a-day subject with the Heuers, but it is part of their daily lives – consummated when Mychael proposed to his wife in 1993 at a high school girls basketball game in California where they were coaching against each other.
“My team knew, but I didn’t know (about the proposal),” Monica recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, great, everybody came to this game today.’ ”
CHALLENGES AND SUCCESS
Up until two years ago, Monica, 43, and Mychael, 44, were the wife-and-husband coaching tandem for the Evergreen women’s program, serving as head coach and associate head coach, respectively, for eight seasons. They’ve coached side-by-side for almost all of their 17 years of marriage. They still work on Evergreen’s campus where Monica is the assistant athletic director and Mychael is the acting director of the college’s career development center.
Both grew up playing basketball - Mychael at El Cerrito High School in Oakland, Calif., against future NBA superstar Gary Payton, and Monica at Redwood Christian in nearby Castro Valley, and later as a four-year player at Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay).
Their paths first crossed in Sacramento during a summer 3-on-3 national high school basketball tournament. A player each coached separately introduced them in 1992. They were married two years later.
Not long after, they both took to the college ranks.
Dave Weber, the former Evergreen athletic director (2000-10), coached against Mychael and Monica in high school. And when Weber was hired as the AD and men’s coach at nearby Patten College (now Patten University), he hired the Heuers to start a women’s team from scratch in 1995.
Monica was there for two seasons before being lured to San Jose State and San Francisco as an assistant for an NCAA Division I program. Soon after, Mychael took over as Patten’s coach, leading that school to a 21-11 record in 1999-2000, and one victory away from making it to the NAIA national tournament.
A year after Weber headed north to take the AD position at Evergreen in 2000, he hired both Heuers to coach the Geoducks’ women in basketball.
“I definitely wanted someone who could do it, and they could do it,” Weber said. “They did a terrific job down there.”
The challenge of being a husband-and-wife coaching tandem wasn’t their only obstacle early on in their careers.
While at Patten, the Heuers were still newlyweds. They were learning how to be married, in addition to coaching an NAIA women’s basketball team in its first year of existence, as well as trying to make it all work with 8-to-5 jobs. And in Mychael’s case, he also was going to school.
“You have to figure all of that out at one time,” Monica said. “Moving forward to coming here (to Evergreen), we had figured out some things. It wasn’t perfect; it was still challenging.”
In the Heuers’ eight years together on the bench at Evergreen (2002-10), the Geoducks’ best season came in 2004-05 when the program posted its best record in the 15-year history of the program at 16-14 overall, 10-8 in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.
Mychael calls the first few seasons a “learning process,” learning to be an assistant under his wife. By the end of their tenure together, “they worked really well together”, Evergreen forward Danielle Swain said.
There were trying times for the Heuers off the court.
Their second season in 2003-04 was especially difficult. After a kitchen fire they temporarily moved in with friends. Mychael’s father died. Monica’s mother was diagnosed with cancer.
And in April 2004, the couple became parents when Alex was born.
“We strengthened our relationship since coming here,” Mychael said. “We really relied on each other to make it through that tough time. How you focus on basketball goes back to getting in that zone. That’s our comfort zone.”
JUGGLING LIFE, JOBS
Now, the two run their own separate college programs.
In 2010, Mychael was hired to coach at SPSCC, only to see the program forfeit its final 10 games when roster numbers dwindled to dangerous proportions because of injuries and eligibility issues. This season, the Clippers are playing a full NWAACC West Division schedule of games – with moderate success (3-13 overall record).
Evergreen just returned from weekend games at College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon, both losses. The Geoducks are 4-18, and trail Southern Oregon by a game to get into the conference tournament in three weeks.
It is that time of year. Weekends are a scheduling grind. Weeknights are not much better with practices and sometimes SPSCC games.
And when one parent does have free time, it usually means getting Alex off to practice – in soccer, not basketball.
“I never thought I’d be a soccer mom in the rain,” Monica said. “I know he’ll come around.”
The Heuers have succeeded in finding the right balance among basketball, personal relationships, their careers and family.
“You don’t go through 17 years of marriage without bumps and tribulations, but we’ve survived it,” Mychael said. “It’s nice to have somebody to share the understanding of what you’re going through and being able to have your spouse be able to also love what you do.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org