Former Warriors return to dome Saturday
Basketball players from as far back as the 1995-96 season will gather in the Dietrich Dome Saturday night for an event that Walla Walla Community College officials hope will evolve into an annual alumni weekend.
Approximately 30 men and 40-plus women, all of whom played under Warriors coaches Jeff Reinland and Bobbi Hazeltine, are expected to participate in a pair of alumni games. The women’s game is scheduled for a 5 p.m. start, with the men to follow at about 7 p.m.
Because of the unexpected number of athletes who have indicated they plan to attend, each game will consist of three 20-minute halves with a running clock.
Admission is $5 and the public is encouraged to attend.
Kristi Wellington-Baker, who is the executive director of strategic initiatives at WWCC, is one of the driving forces behind the event. But she passes on most of the credit to Reinland and Hazeltine, who have been responsible for much of the outreach.
Wellington-Baker, who said that discussions of an alumni event have been ongoing “for at least a couple of years,” envisions the event expanding.
“We’ve talked about how much fun it would be to do,” Wellington-Baker said. “It takes an outreach between athletics and the advancement unit.
“I think next year we hope to expand it, maybe even as early as this spring. We would like to create some kind of alumni weekend so more of our alumni are aware of what is happening at their college.”
Reinland and Hazeltine see it in much the same light, with less focus on the actual alumni games and more of a homecoming event.
“This is more about bringing players back and celebrating their time here,” Reinland said. “And at the same time supporting the guys and girls who are playing here now. Kind of a celebration of Warriors basketball, really, in the time Bobbi and I have been here.”
Hazeltine sees a family component as well.
“Some of the older girls are excited to show their kids where they went to school, and I think that’s really cool,” Hazeltine said. “Some of the girls met their husbands here, and they are excited to come back as well.”
Hazeltine has no intention of coaching her former players, she said.
“I’m just going to sit back and watch,” she said. “They can play as much or as little as their teammates want them to play. I’m just excited to see them, because many of them I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Among the men who will be in the dome Saturday night there will be two former NWAC East Region Most Valuable players and a number of first-team all-region players. Rob Pankowski was the East’s MVP in 2004 and Curtis Carlson, who prepped at Mac-Hi, won the award in 2007.
Nick Nicholson, Jason Smith, Emery Henning, Dylan Radliff and Case Rada are the players who earned first-team all-region honors.
Likewise on the women’s side, several former MVPs will be in attendance.
Aundrea Morrison of Hermiston won the East’s Most Valuable Player award in 2005 and Sadie Short of Touchet was the region’s MVP two years later. And Katie Isham, who is now one of Hazeltine’s assistant coaches, was a two-time NWAC Player of the Year and led the Warrior women to their last NWAC championship as a sophomore in 2010.
Others who played on that team and will be in town Saturday are Nancy Johnson, Jaimie Berghammer, Morgon VanderEsch, Kayla Hutchison, Shaiann Dreadfulwater and Morgan Wolff. Two others, Shelby Isham and Layne Tucker, are both pregnant but would otherwise take part Saturday, Hazeltine said.
WWCC claimed its only other NWAC women’s championship in 2001. That team will be represented by Amanda Goslin, Katie Cannon, Jessica Johnson, Katie Arnzen and Kylee Doggett. Johnson was the tournament MVP that year.
Reinland, who took over the men’s program in 1993, six years before Hazeltine arrived at the school, won his first NWAC title just last year. But the only member of that team who plans to take part in Saturday’s alumni game is Wa-Hi product Noah Porter, a freshman last year who is no longer in the program.
The other members of that championship squad are either playing collegiate ball elsewhere or are still on the WWCC men’s roster for the 2017-18 season.
Shooting guards Gabe Porter and Caulin Bakalarski are both enrolled at Montana State Northern, Reinland said, and he believes small forward Dalton Thompson is as well after originally deciding on the University of Victoria. Center Beau Tilleman is at Corban University.
“We are thrilled with the response on both sides,” Hazeltine said. “I just hope some community people who used to cheer for these guys and girls come out because I know it will be very special to these former players.”