Sophomore guard Mikayla Pivec was unsure of the reaction she'd get when she approached Oregon State coach Scott Rueck last spring about possibly joining the track team.

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Lots of athletes run track in the offseason to help them stay sharp, but Pivec was a bit unusual in that she wanted to moonlight as a javelin thrower. Rueck agreed, but with a caveat: The javelin couldn't take the place of hoops.

 
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To Rueck's relief, it didn't, and Pivec is a guiding force for the No. 17 Beavers this season.

"He said: 'Stay healthy and go out there and compete,'" Pivec said about Rueck's reaction. "I was thankful for him to have that blessing."

The Beavers open the Pac-12 season at home on Friday against Washington. Oregon State (9-2) wrapped up the nonconference schedule with a six-game winning streak, capped by a 61-47 victory over UC Davis last week. Pivec had 14 points and nine rebounds.

The Beavers are one of four ranked teams in the conference, joining No. 10 Oregon, No. 11 UCLA and No. 20 California. Stanford dropped out of the poll this week, ending a string of 312 weeks in the AP Top 25.

Pivec is averaging 13.5 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 58.7 percent from the floor this season, taking over at point guard for Sydney Wiese, now with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

It's a heavy responsibility: Wiese finished her career as one of Oregon State's all-time greats. She set records for most assists and 3-pointers (with 373, also a Pac-12 record). She also helped guide the team to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past four seasons, including Sweet 16 appearances in the last two.

Pivec said it was a privilege to learn from Wiese.

"There's no way you can replace Syd. She definitely left a lot of holes for us to fill," Pivec said. "I don't feel any extra pressure. I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help the team be successful and win."

As a freshman last year, Pivec was soft-spoken and even seemed a bit shy when she faced postgame questions from the media. This season, she's shown growing confidence both on and off the court.

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"A year ago, you wouldn't hear a word out of Mik. You'd have to just wait, then ask a question, and then wait, and then she might say something," Rueck joked.

He said Pivec communicated in her own quiet way, eventually developing a rapport with her teammates.

"This year she has the ball in her hands a lot, she's much more vocal, she's way more in tune with me. It's been fun to watch that develop. ... I'm seeing a lot more progress in communication, which is leadership," Rueck said. "Offensively, running the point, she's much more efficient getting us into plays, her transition game, her rebounding, her ability to shoot the three. Those things were in place a year ago. Everything's just a step up."

Pivec smiles when she talks about the moment, following Oregon State's run in the NCAA Tournament last season, when she asked Rueck about doubling up. She had already prepared her argument.

"I said, 'Hey coach, how do you feel about me competing in track and field? I know it would help my strength and my speed and explosiveness. How do you feel about that?'" she recalled.

Once she had his blessing, the 5-foot-10 Pivec took part in just a few meets. But at the Oregon Twilight in Eugene, she threw a 142-4, the fourth-best mark in Beavers history. She also threw in the Pac-12 championships.

"I felt like I got more workouts in and I was also able to meet and bond with a new group of people, so that was good," she said.

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Pivec is a BioHealth Sciences major with a pre-medicine focus, and hopes to become a dermatologist. She was honored when she was named the Oregon State scholar-athlete for December because of a 4.0 grade-point average.

But she sheepishly admits that she recently got an A-minus in physics. So she now has "like a 3.978."

"I did the most work in that class. I studied the hardest in that class. It just wasn't able to happen. But I did my best!" she said.

With a flash of humor that shows her growing confidence, Pivec added with a laugh: "So, I guess there goes your story. Sorry."

This article was written by Anne M. Peterson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.