Bobbi Hazeltine took Walla Walla to the Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball championship as a low seed in 2001 when the Warriors defeated Skagit Valley 69-63 on the Cardinals’ home floor in Mount Vernon.
The veteran WWCC coach guided a top-seeded team to an NWAC title at the Toyota Center in Kennewick in 2010 with a thrilling 75-72 victory over East Region rival Yakima in the championship game.
And she did it again Sunday afternoon in Everett in a monstrous showdown between two teams that entered the championship game with identical 31-1 records. The Warriors blew away South Region champion Umpqua 90-74 and finished the season with an unprecedented 30-game winning streak.
“That first one way back when was a lot of fun because it wasn’t expected,” Hazeltine recollected of her first championship. “We were a low seed and we pulled a lot of upsets along the way.”
Aside from the fact that it was a region rival on the losing end in 2010, what made Hazeltine’s second title even more meaningful was that the game was played just an hour away from the WWCC campus.
“We won that first one a long ways from home,” Hazeltine said in the early moments after defeating the Yaks for the third time in four games that season. “We were just establishing ourselves and there were not a lot of people there.
“It was exciting, but this one is special because we got to share it with so many people. Our college, all of those who work at the college, have been so supportive. And our families. This one is a lot more special because we could share it with so many.”
What separates this year’s championship team from the first two is the way in which it was achieved.
Six-foot Amanda Goslin and 5-11 Lindy Kirkland in 2001 and 6-0 Jaimie Berghammer, 5-11 Kayla Hutcheson and 5-10 Nancy Johnson in 2010 afforded their respective teams with a decided inside presence. Freshman Taylor Turner at 5-9 was the tallest starter on this year’s perimeter-oriented run-and-gun team.
“This is by far the shortest team I have ever had,” Hazeltine said. “I was told by someone that you could win without a true post, and we didn’t have a true post.
“We just have a lot of average-sized girls who have big hearts. They had a goal of winning and I don’t think I have ever had a team work as hard for what they got.”
The five sophomores on this year’s squad were no doubt motivated by last year’s bitter 76-73 overtime loss to another East rival, Spokane, in the NWAC championship game. And all five played major roles in record-setting fashion.
Cierra Jo McKeown, who has already signed a national letter of intent to play at the University of California-Davis next season, was the team’s scoring machine. She averaged 23.6 points per game, fired away at a 43.6-percent clip from beyond the 3-point arc and became WWCC’s all-time scorer with 1,387 points over her two-year Warriors career.
McKeown averaged right at 30 points in WWCC’s four tournament games.
“She shot lights out,” Hazeltine said of McKeown, the tournament’s most valuable player. “Any time we needed a big shot, she made it. What a player! We will probably never see anything like her again.”
Jade Skidmore ran the team from the point guard position and her leadership was immeasurable. She shot 50-percent from the field and scored at a 16-point clip, and she led the team with 9.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game.
Skidmore averaged 21 points, dished out 33 assists and pulled down 31 rebounds in the four tournament games.
“She hit so many buzzer-beating shots,” Hazeltine said of Skidmore’s play in the championship game. “There were a lot of times where we tried to take possessions down to under 10 seconds, and Jade time and time again made a shot at the 30-second buzzer.”
Teresa Acock finished the year with a 13.3 scoring average, and her ability to knock down 3-point shots discouraged defenses from overplaying McKeown on the perimeter.
“Teresa made her 100th 3-pointer of the season in the tournament,” Hazeltine said of Acock, who finished the year 101-for-247 from downtown, 41 percent. “It’s very rare when you have two players on the same team make that many 3s.
“Jade and Teresa were already getting looks from four-year coaches,” Hazeltine added. “And now they are getting so many more because of how well played in the tournament.”
Adrianna Peralez at 5-foot-8 was asked to play one of the posts for the Warriors this season. She responded by averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
The fifth sophomore, 5-4 Kortney Hutchison, was a defensive specialist who was in the lineup when Hazeltine decided to start four guards and was usually the first player off the bench when the coach went with two post players. She contributed 5.3 points and 1.2 assists a game.
“Kortney was such a great defender,” Hazeltine said of Hutchison. “And Adri (Peralez) is a rebounder and a defender for her little 5-9 body, and she’s so good at it.”
To the victor go the spoils. But in this case it is accompanied with an uncertain future.
“We averaged 80 points a game and we lose almost 70 of those points,” Hazeltine said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in the off season.
“We have to replace two 3-point shooters and that will be tough to do. And we will have to find a point guard, which is the most important thing.”
The Warriors will return one starter in Turner, who averaged 6.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in her debut college campaign. Another freshman, 5-11 Kaileigh Dietrich-Denton, was the first post player off the bench and averaged 3.5 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Four other freshmen — 5-8 Sidney Andrews, 5-6 Rylie Lyon, 5-5 McKenzie Gunter and 5-10 Malorie Bowen — rounded out WWCC’s tournament roster. And three other first-year players — 5-5 Blair Radford, 5-6 Kate Renfro and 5-11 Heather Mosley — missed the latter half of the regular season and the postseason after suffering knee injuries.
Hazeltine is also counting on three redshirt freshmen — 6-3 post Bailey Stoddard of Shelley, Idaho; 6-0 post Lexee Robertson of Imbler, Ore.; and 5-9 shooting guard Kaitlyn Gasseling of Yakima — to impact her 2018-19 roster.
“We return a lot of kids but not a lot of experience,” the coach said.
It remains to be seen if the anticipated returning size or a successful recruiting class will dictate how Hazeltine approaches next season.
“We have been grooming Bailey Stoddard all year,” the coach said of her 6-3 redshirt post. “She is just waiting to play and step in and be a force.
“Running was fun,” she added. “But if you want to be successful, you have to play with the hand you are dealt. We had kids this year who could run and shoot and put up 70, 80, 90 points a game, but if you don’t get those kind of kids you can’t do that.
“I’d love to have kids like we had this year, but I don’t know if they are out there. We are going to have to go with the girls we get and adjust to their style.
“But I don’t want to do that right now because this was so much fun.”