WALLA WALLA — Bobbi Hazeltine professes to be superstitious when it comes to some things — broken mirrors and black cats, perhaps — but not necessarily the number 13.
At least not where her Walla Walla Community College women’s basketball team is concerned.
The Warriors will be making their 13th consecutive appearance in the NWAACC Championships beginning Saturday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. But the coach hasn’t given a thought to the significance of the unlucky number.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Hazeltine said. “And it means nothing. Thanks for asking.”
In the same breath, she’s not the least bit concerned with her team’s downward trend in recent tournaments. After winning the NWAACC title in 2010, the Warriors finished second in 2011 and placed third last year.
“It’s just the way it happens and it has nothing to do with anything,” Hazeltine said. “You just need to go out and play.”
Perhaps Hazeltine’s disregard for such matters is rooted in the knowledge that she is leading one of her most successful teams into the Toyota Center to face Southwest Oregon in a 6 p.m. first-round game.
The Warriors won the rugged Eastern Region crown with a 12-2 record. They are 23-3 on the season and their RPI (Rating Percentage Index) of .5794 is the third best in the NWAACC behind Southern Region powers Lane and Clackamas.
South champion Lane (.6121) is in the other bracket and runnerup Clackamas (.6008) looms as a potential semifinal foe. Southwest Oregon’s .5198 RPI ranks 17th in the 33-school NWAACC.
But RPI rankings hardly tell the whole story where this year’s Warriors are concerned.
For starters, WWCC’s roster is deep and experienced. Hazeltine has eight sophomores at her disposal, six of whom played in last year’s tournament.
“I feel like I don’t have to go crazy talking about this tournament,” Hazeltine said. “Our sophomores let our freshmen know what’s going on. Our co-captains (forward Caitlin Duncan and post Hailey Felgenhauer) have been here three years and this will be their third tournament.”
Duncan redshirted last year with a knee injury after playing in 2011. Felgenhauer missed the 2011 season with a knee injury.
Even more importantly, no fewer than six different players have led the team in scoring at one time or another during the season.
“As far as balance goes, we obviously have a leading scorer or two,” Hazeltine said. “Sometimes in years past, other teams have been able to concentrate on a particular player. But this year we have players who can score in our starting lineup, and others who can score coming off the bench.
“And it’s never the same kid, and I like that.”
Hazeltine also likes the notion that her team can score in different ways.
“If people zone us, we have good shooters,” the coach said. “If they go man-to-man, we have a couple of girls who can pose match-up problems. And we have kids inside who do a good job.
“We think we can beat people in a variety of different ways.”
Sophomore Michelle Seitz, a seldom-used reserve on last year’s team, has blossomed into a true star for the Warriors this winter. Seitz, who just this week was named the Eastern Region Player of the Year, averages 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
“She is the best jump shooter that I have ever had,” Hazeltine said of Seitz, who set a school single-game scoring record Jan. 16 when she put up 44 points in a 77-53 home victory over Yakima. “She plays like a guy, shoots like a guy, and you don’t find a lot of those at our level.
“Michelle jumps out of the gym, understands the game and is a great passer. She is just a great all-around ball player who is finally getting noticed.”
Seitz was also named to the region’s all-defensive first team. She was a key cog in WWCC’s last two regular-season games when the Warriors held Big Bend to 10 points in the second half of a 61-32 Walla Walla victory Feb. 16 in the Dietrich Dome and then limited Blue Mountain to eight points in the first half of a 57-36 victory four nights later in Pendleton.
“This is one of the better defensive teams I’ve had, and I think that was evident late in the season,” Hazeltine said.
Felgenhauer averages an even 14 points per game as the Warriors’ primary post player and Duncan is a third WWCC player in double figures with an 11.6 scoring average. The other two starters, sophomore wing Allie Kelsey and sophomore point guard Brooke Hawkins, average 6.8 and 3.8 points per game.
Gabby Anderson, a 6-2 sophomore post, averages 4.5 points off the bench. And a pair of freshmen forwards, Amy DeLong and MeShel Rad, average four points apiece in reserve roles.
Felgenhauer grabs seven rebounds a game and Duncan averages 4.8. Hawkins dishes out 3.5 assists per game.
Southwest Oregon enters Saturday’s game with a 15-11 overall record after finishing fourth in the Southern Region at 8-6. The Lakers are led by Quynne Eharis, a 5-11 post who tops the entire NWAACC in rebounding with 12.7 boards per game and averages 18.8 points a game, seventh overall.
“She is far and away the best post player we will have played this year,” Hazeltine said. “Defending the post has never been our strength, but it is going to be. We are working on every possible defense that we can think of, and by Friday we will decide on one.”
Hazeltine isn’t sure there is a clear cut favorite in this year’s field but naturally points to Lane and Clackamas as two top contenders.
“There are teams from each division that are strong,” she said. “Certainly anybody from our league has a chance to win it all. The four representatives from the East are always so tough.
“The thing is, you have to play well for four days and that is hard to do.”
It requires a little luck. Good luck, that is, not bad.