Bobbi Hazeltine has kept her promise.
After watching her Walla Walla Community College women’s basketball team exit the NWAC Championships in Kennewick last March in winless fashion for the first time in 15 tournament appearances, she vowed to restock her roster in a major way.
When the Warriors take the court for the first time this season Friday afternoon at the Yakima Invitational, nine of the 13 players on Hazeltine’s roster will be true freshmen. Walla Walla faces Clark at 4 p.m. in the first round of the three-day tourney.
“I like our recruiting year,” Hazeltine said as she assessed her roster. “We have talent. We also have a lot of inexperience, but you are going to get that bringing in that many new girls.
“But I really like these guys. They work hard and they are so coachable. We may have some growing pains, but I am excited about what could happen in January.”
That’s when NWAC East Region play begins. And as always, Hazeltine’s first and foremost goal is to capture one of the East’s four postseason tournament berths.
That was the goal a year ago, and the Warriors perhaps overachieved in winning the regional championship with a 12-2 record on their way to a 21-7 mark overall.
Kennedy Corrigan, Walla Walla’s 5-foot-4 freshman point guard out of Richland, had a lot to do with that as she averaged 14.6 points and 4.2 assists per game and was named the East Region’s Freshman of the Year.
“That was a huge compliment, because there were a lot of good freshmen in the East last year,” Hazeltine said. “She was a great ball handler, a great passer, and she became a scorer for us in the middle of the year. She got votes from all of the other coaches.”
Corrigan is the undisputed leader of this year’s team. She’s also Hazeltine’s only returning starter, not to mention the only player on the roster who saw significant minutes in 2014-15.
“If you only have one returning player, you want that player to be your point guard,” Hazeltine said. “And that’s what we have. Kennedy ranks right up there with the very best I have ever coached at that position.
“She is so smart, so heady, and she knows the game. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a player that I turned the game over to because I am the type of coach who likes to call everything, but I have given her free rein to change things up.”
Also returning from last year’s team are 5-4 guard Kayla Green and 5-11 forward Tiffani Dennis. Green’s minutes were limited last year because she was Corrigan’s backup at point guard, and Dennis missed the majority of the season due to injury.
“It was so tough taking Kennedy out, and that is why Kayla didn’t play,” Hazeltine said. “We’re going to be smarter this year. We’re moving Kayla to shooting guard and we will play them together.
“Kayla is our quickest kid and she shoots well. She will also defend the other team’s best guard. And if Kennedy needs a break, we can wheel Kayla over to the point.”
Dennis finally got healthy late in the season and gave Hazeltine some valuable minutes off the bench in WWCC’s two tournament games.
“She is our only inside player with any experience,” Hazeltine said of Dennis. “That will help us. She could be a starter for us. Right now she’s battling for one of those spots for sure.”
The only other non-freshman on the roster is 5-1 guard Brianne Stubbs, who redshirted last season after playing in a reserve role as a freshman in 2013-14.
“She had too many injury issues last year so we kept her out,” Hazeltine explained. “Obviously she is really small, but she’s a fireball and a good defender. She brings a lot of energy, and we need that sometimes.”
Among the nine first-year players on this year’s roster is Wa-Hi product Kate Ferenz, the daughter of Blue Devils girls coach Chris Ferenz and Whitman College women’s coach Michelle Ferenz. Kate’s twin sister Mikayla, who had a higher profile high-school career, is on scholarship at the University of Idaho.
“We had been interested in Kate all along, and it’s a great compliment that she committed to us because a lot of other people were looking at her,” Hazeltine said. “And it’s always nice to have a local kid on your roster. We always want the local kids.”
Ferenz will find herself in a new role at WWCC, Hazeltine noted.
“She’s 5-10, which we love, and she could play a little bit inside,” the coach said. “But watching our inside kids develop and the fact that Kate shoots so well, we need her to be a guard. She is probably one of our best shooters.
“The interesting thing about Kate is that she always played in her sister’s shadow at Wa-Hi and was never the go-to player. On our team we have created a bunch of set plays for her, running her off screens so she can score.”
Aside from inexperience, if there’s a theme to this year’s recruiting class it’s depth. And a good deal of that depth is on the front line.
“We do have more size,” Hazeltine said. “We have three post players who are 6-foot or 6-1. Their weakness is just lack of experience, but they are getting better every day.”
Emily Hancock (6-1) of Pocatello, Idaho, Tabitha Wellsandt (6-0) of Kamiakin, and Cheyan James (6-0) of Mackay, Idaho, are three of Hazeltine’s bigs. Kirstin Twohy (5-11) of Goldendale, Wash., is also ticketed for front-line duty.
Wellsandt, who has the inside track as the team’s starting post, and Hancock, who is battling for a starting position, are totally different players, according to Hazeltine.
“Tabitha is aggressive, Emily is finesse, and they will complement each other very well, ” Hazeltine said. “Tabitha has been a big surprise for us so far and Emily doesn’t know how good she can be. They may struggle for awhile, but both have a chance to be pretty good.”
James is still making the adjustment from a small high school to the community college level, Hazeltine said, and Twohy is rounding into form after missing the first month of practice because of a knee injury.
“Cheyan dominated at her level and is finding this to be a different level of play,” Hazeltine said. “But we like her physicality. She plays with her back to the basket, posts up hard and is tough to guard.
“What attracted us to Kirstin was her rebounding numbers. She won’t make an impact right away, but her main job will be rebounding because she has a real knack for it.”
The Warriors’ freshman back court players are Shayna Allert (5-7), Post Falls, Idaho; Marquel Greene (5-5), Lapwai, Idaho; Jacee Jensen (5-5), Firth, Idaho; and Alyssa Nash (5-7), Mabton, Wash.
“Shayna’s dad is a coach and she really understands the game,” Hazeltine said of Allert. “Spokane wanted her and we were lucky and got her. She’s a decent shooter and will give us minutes at shooting guard.
“Marquel just knows how to win,” the coach said of Greene. “She comes from a great high-school program that has won state titles. She likes to run the floor and we are more under control, so she has to learn to fit into our style of play. But she can shoot it, and she’s a great passer.”
Hazeltine recruited Jensen away from Treasure Valley and plans to use her as the team’s first guard off the bench.
“She’s a good shooting guard, a good defender and a good passer,” Hazeltine said of Jensen. “And she’s a smart kid. She will see big minutes for us this year.”
Nash, who scored 1,000 points during her high-school career, is battling to overcome a series of injuries.
“She’s been injured from day one, but there are no plans to redshirt her,” Hazeltine said. “She has a lot of ability and we are hoping she can overcome her injuries. There are minutes for her down the road, but not immediately.”
Article by Jim Buchan of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin