Walla Walla Community College
Women’s Basketball

Warriors to shoot through season

If Bobbi Hazeltine’s team shoots 3-pointers the way she believes it can, she figures it won’t much matter if it rebounds the way she thinks it might.

Hazeltine, who begins her 18th season in charge of Walla Walla Community College’s women’s basketball program Friday in Yakima, believes she has assembled a group of talented shooters that rivals the best she’s ever coached.

And considering she’s won two Northwest Athletic Conference championships, placed second twice and made 15 consecutive trips to the league’s postseason tournament, that’s saying something.

It all starts with 5-foot-10 sophomore Kate Ferenz, who missed the entire NWAC East Division campaign last year after suffering a right knee injury in early January. That after a brilliant start to her collegiate career.

The 2015 Wa-Hi graduate averaged 13.7 points, shot 48 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and set a Warriors single-game school record by making 12 3-pointers in a December game in the Dietrich Dome. The Warriors were 10-2 with Ferenz on the floor, went 7-8 without her and missed the NWAC tournament for only the second time in Hazeltine’s WWCC career.

“Losing Kate was really tough,” Hazeltine said. “But she’s back and she feels really good. She maybe has lost a little quickness, what you would expect, but she is probably back quicker than I thought as far as getting to 100 percent.

“And I don’t see any difference in her shooting.”

Ferenz will be joined by a trio of sophomore guards and a stable of freshmen sharpshooters who should provide Hazeltine with a bevy of backcourt options as the season goes on. But on the flip side, there appears to be a dearth of depth at the post position.

Tabitha Wellsandt, who averaged 13 points and 7.5 rebounds as a freshman post, decided to give up basketball and has transferred to George Fox University. And Cheyan James, a 6-footer who was a valuable inside reserve a year ago, is playing volleyball for the Warriors this fall and won’t join the basketball team until next week at the earliest.

That leaves Emily Hancock (6-1) and Kristin Twohy (6-0) as the Warriors’ only experienced post players heading into Friday’s season opener. And that means Hazeltine will experiment with a four-guard offense in the early going, which in turn will put a premium on rebounds.

“For years we have had great rebounding teams, but that’s my biggest concern with this team,” the coach said. “We are great shooters, but we are going to miss some shots, so we are concentrating on our guards being rebounders.”

Ferenz has the size to lend a hand on the backboards. And Cierra Jo McKeown, a 5-9 freshman recruit out of Touchet, figures to be one of the Warriors’ starting guards and should help as well.

“Kate and Cierra Jo give us some length,” Hazeltine said. “Both as rebounders and on defense.”

McKeown has point guard skills but will more likely move to a wing position in WWCC’s four-guard setup, Hazeltine said.

“My plan was for Cierra Jo to play the point, but that would be taking points away from her,” Hazeltine said. “If she plays the three guard, I am going to expect her to shoot it a lot. And she is such a good 3-point shooter.

“With Cierra Jo and Kate and a few others, we have addressed our shooting issues.”

Besides, another freshman, 5-7 Jade Skidmore, is more than capable of taking on point-guard responsibilities.

Skidmore, whose father was her coach at West Jefferson High in Terreton, Idaho, is another in a long line of Idaho prep stars that Hazeltine has uncovered in her home state.

“We have known of her for a long time,” Hazeltine said of Skidmore. “She had other offers from some bigger schools, but her dad knows our program and we are fortunate that she chose us because she is such a good point guard.

“She doesn’t shoot the 3 like Cierra Jo, but she has a nice pull-up jumper. They can both pass the ball, and they compliment each other on the court.”

Although it’s not cast in stone, redshirt sophomore Mackenzie Reddish (5-6) of Rosalia looks like the fourth guard in Hazeltine’s starting lineup. Reddish began her collegiate career at Spokane Community College but transferred to WWCC and was required to sit out last season.

“We loved Mackenzie out of high school but she chose Spokane and didn’t like it up there,” Hazeltine said. “We project her as a starter at shooting guard, and she is one of our options at point guard.

“She has a true jump shot and has a chance to be pretty good,” the coach added. “She played against us in practice all last year, and at times she made us look bad.”

Marquelle Greene (5-4) and Jacee Jensen (5-5) are a pair of returning guards who will battle for playing time. Greene, however, suffered a kneecap injury in an early practice and might not be available until league play commences in January.

“Marquelle was our leading scorer in several games last year because she could shoot the 3,” Hazeltine said. “Jacee is not your typical 3-point shooter, but she is quick and goes to the hole well. She also plays good defense and will either be in our starting lineup or one of the first players off the bench.”

In addition to McKeown and Skidmore, the group of freshman guards includes Teresa Acock (5-5) of DeSales, Kortney Hutchison (5-4) of Burley, Idaho, and Hannah Thompson (5-6) of Hanford High in Richland.

“Teresa is another one who can shoot it,” Hazeltine said of Acock. “Dripping wet she’s not very heavy, and we have her in the weight room. Defense was my biggest concern for her, but she has come leaps and bounds in that area, and she will play for us.”

Hazeltine calls Hutchison “one of our fastest, quickest kids, and our best defender,” who is a better-than-average shooter and can take the ball to the basket. “She’s in the mix for one of our first guards off the bench, and if we press we have to have her out there.”

Thompson is at WWCC to play soccer and asked if she could try out for the basketball team.

“She just turned out,” Hazeltine said. “She’s a great kid who knows she is a couple of months behind, but she gives us some added depth at the guard spot.”

Wellsandt’s decision to give up basketball was offset when Hancock had a change of heart and returned to WWCC for her sophomore year.

“She changed her mind about going on a (Mormon) mission,” Hazeltine said of Hancock. “Now she plans to be here through the basketball season and then see what happens. People change their minds both ways.”

Hancock will be the Warriors’ lone starting post Friday, and she isn’t expected to provide the same inside force Wellsandt brought to the court.

 “She’s tall and athletic and has some moves, but she’s not one of those banger players,” Hazeltine said of Hancock. “We would like her to be more aggressive, but that is not the player she is.”

Twohy was a reserve as a freshman and will fill a similar role this season, Hazeltine said.

“Hopefully she will play more this year,” the coach said. “She is our strongest player in the weight room and we have to figure out a way to use that on the boards.”

The same could be said for a pair of freshmen, Justyce Brotherton (5-9) of Seaside, Ore., and Adrianne Peralez (5-8) of Heyburn, Idaho.

“Justyce has been out of high school for a couple of years and is a little rusty, but she is a heckuva post player and is more athletic than anyone we have,” Hazeltine said. “And Adrianne has embraced the idea of playing small forward, has a decent outside shot and we are going to get her on the floor somehow.”

The goal, as always, is to finish among the top four teams in the East Division and qualify for the NWAC Championships. And having failed to achieve that goal last year for the first time in 16 years, Hazeltine and her players will doubtless redouble their efforts.

Article by Jim Buchan of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Photo by Michael Lopez of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

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