Walla Walla Community College
Women’s Basketball

WWCC women ready for NWACs

The Warriors are riding a 25-game winning streak, but know they’ll have their hands full as the tourney opens against Highline.

Walla Walla enters Thursday’s first round of the women’s NWAC Championships women’s basketball tournament in Everett with a sparkling 28-1 overall record, a 25-game winning streak and an unbeaten run through the always-rugged East Region.

You would think that would be resume enough to make the Warriors prohibitive favorites in the 16-team tourney.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

South Region champion Umpqua, positioned in the opposite bracket, also boasts a 28-1 season mark. A championship-game showdown between the Warriors and the Timberwomen is more than enticing.

However, Umpqua’s lone defeat came at the hands of Lane just last week in Eugene. And Lane, 22-6 and the South Region’s No. 2 seed, lurks on WWCC’s side the bracket and would face the Warriors in Friday’s quarterfinals provided both teams pass their first-round test.

“Lane is playing as well as any team in the tournament,” WWCC coach Bobbi Hazeltine said of the Titans, who open up against Skagit Valley Thursday. “Because of that I don’t love our draw. But you have to play them all anyway if you want to win.”

Walla Walla faced Lane twice during the regular season, defeating the Titans 80-61 Dec. 8 in Tacoma and 98-65 when they met three weeks later in Salem, Ore. Those outcomes are of little comfort to Hazeltine.

“It’s hard to beat a team the third time,” the Warriors coach said. “They are a huge team and we are not very big. Lane is the one team I didn’t want to see.”

That said, Hazeltine doesn’t want her players to be looking past first-round opponent Highline, even though the No. 4 seed out of the West Region opens tournament play with an 11-16 record. The Thunderbirds are one of six teams in the tourney field that the Warriors have not played this season.

“We have seen a lot of the teams, but they are not one of them,” Hazeltine said. “So we are going in blind, even though I did watch them on film (Sunday).”

As is always the case this season, Hazeltine is concerned with big post players. And Highline has one in 6-foot Sharon Ajayi.

“She averages 11 rebounds a game and a lot of them are offensive,” Hazeltine said. “She also averages 15 points a game, and because we are so small I see that as a problem. She will pose some problems for us.”

Hazeltine doesn’t put much stock in the Thunderbirds’ losing record, either.

“They are young and their coach (Daimen Crump) is in his first or second year and building a new program,” she said. “Sometimes when you start from scratch it takes you awhile.

“But they appear to be quick and athletic. They are not going to be pushovers.”

Hazeltine doesn’t anticipate changing her game plan, however.

“We will just do what we do and see if they can stop us,” she said.

What the Warriors do is run the floor and score points at a prodigious pace.

“We are way quicker than we were last year,” Hazeltine said, comparing this year’s squad to the team that lost to Spokane in overtime in last year’s tournament championship game. “Every kid on this team, all 11 of them, can run the floor.

“We are averaging something like 80 points a game and I have never had a team do that.”

Leading the way for the Warriors is sophomore shooting guard Cierra Jo McKeown, who averages 22.7 points a game and became the school’s career scoring leader on the final night of the regular season. McKeown’s 1,265 points eclipses by three points the record set by Katie Isham, who concluded her WWCC career by leading the Warriors to their last NWAC title in 2010.

Isham is now Katie Treinen and one of Hazeltine’s assistant coaches.

Sophomore point guard Jade Skidmore averages 15.3 points and leads the Warriors with 9.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. A third sophomore guard, Teresa Acock, also averages in double figures at 13.4 points per game and post players Adrianna Peralza, a sophomore, and Taylor Turner, a freshman, contribute 7.4 and 6.0 points, respectively.

Sophomore guard Kortney Hutchison, who starts when Hazeltine decides to go small and comes off the bench when the coach goes with two post players, averages 5.7 points a game.

The Warriors’ only defeat of the season came at the hands of the Lady Elite in the championship game of the Yakima Tipoff Tournament way back on Nov. 19 in Yakima. The Lady Elite was a group of former NCAA Division I players and led by WNBA veteran Shoni Schimmel, who scored 33 points in the 88-76 win over WWCC.

Obviously, Walla Walla has not lost to another community college program this season. Of other teams in this year’s tournament field, the Warriors have defeated Mount Hood and East rival Columbia Basin three times each, East foes Big Bend and North Idaho twice each as well as Lane, and Grays Harbor, Bellevue, Clackamas, Centralia and Peninsula one time each.

While the tournament field includes four teams — Highline (11-16), Skagit Valley (13-14), Peninsula (8-16) and Mount Hood (12-14) — with losing records, Hazeltine views the field as a whole as extremely dangerous.

“Overall, I think there are maybe eight teams that could win it,” she said. “And that is kind of scary.”

Union Bulletin

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