Full court pressure
An experienced Western women’s basketball team enters the 2016-17 season with hopes of returning to the NCAA Division II National Championship Tournament for the first time since 2014.
The Vikings finished last season with an overall record of 20-9 and placed second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular season. Western’s season ended when it was eliminated from the GNAC postseason tournament after a 78-60 defeat against Montana State University Billings in the semifinals. Four of the team’s five top scorers from that team return this season and are a big reason why the Vikings were picked as the favorite to win its conference this season in the GNAC preseason coaches-poll, receiving six out of 11 first-place votes.
Senior forwards Kiana Gandy and Tia Briggs along with senior guard Taylor Peacocke were unanimously selected to the GNAC preseason All-Conference Team.
Gandy said the team needs to trust one another in high-pressure situations to make a postseason run.
Instead of focusing on any individual statistical goals, Gandy said she wants to work hard every day in practice.
“I want to be there as a person who holds the team accountable,” Gandy said. “Giving 100 percent the whole time is my main focus.”
One of the new faces on the team will be freshman guard Lexie Bland. The former Ellensburg High School player said her biggest strength is her defensive ability. Bland led the team in steals in each of the three exhibition games this season.
“I’m always trying to irritate the person I’m guarding,” Bland said.
Bland said her new teammates have given her positive advice to help her adjust to the quicker-paced college game.
“When I make mistakes, they’re not getting down on me,” Bland said. “They just tell me, ‘You got the next one.’”
Western opened its preseason with an 84-56 victory over Trinity Western University on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Wade King Student Recreation Center. Its second exhibition game was a 105-50 victory over Quest University Canada on Sunday, Oct. 30, at Whatcom Community College. Western closed out their preseason with a 91-75 victory over Puget Sound University on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Whatcom Pavilion.
“When I make mistakes, they’re not getting down on me. They just tell me, ‘You got the next one.’”
The regular season begins at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, against Humboldt State University in the West Region Challenge held in Seattle. Western then takes on Fresno Pacific University at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. The first home game of the regular season will be against Azusa Pacific University at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at Whatcom Pavilion before opening GNAC play on the road against the University of Alaska Fairbanks at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, in Fairbanks, Alaska.
For the second straight year both men’s and women’s basketball teams will play home games at Whatcom Pavilion on the Whatcom Community College campus due to construction on Sam Carver Gymnasium.
Gandy said it can be difficult to get into the “gameday flow” when playing off campus, but thinks it will be easier this season compared to last.
“I think it [Whatcom Pavilion] will feel more like a home-court advantage this year,” Gandy said.
The Western men’s basketball team was picked to finish second in the 2016-17 GNAC preseason coaches’ poll behind the University of Alaska Anchorage. With a successful 2016-17 campaign, the team could amass its 10th-straight winning season.
Last season, the Vikings finished with a 16-15 overall record and placed sixth in the GNAC regular season. Western advanced to the semifinals of the GNAC postseason tournament with a 78-73 upset victory over number three seed University of Alaska Anchorage in the quarterfinals before losing 91-90 to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the semifinals. The University of Alaska Fairbanks would go on to lose in the championship game to top-seed Western Oregon University.
Transfer senior guard Taylor Stafford, sophomore guard Trey Drechsel and senior forward Jeffrey Parker were named to the GNAC Preseason All-Conference Team.
Parker was named a first-team GNAC all star last season after averaging 17.9 points per game. He goes into the season ranked 11 all-time in Western career scoring with 1,375 points. This is just 469 points shy of the record held by Grant Dykstra, who played from 2002 to 2006. Parker, who scored 485 and 556 points in his sophomore and junior years respectively, has an excellent shot at becoming Western’s all-time scoring leader.
“Individual records and accolades are cool, but I just play the game,” Parker said. “I put a lot of work in during the offseason, so I do like to see my hard work pay off, but for the most part I’m just playing to get the win for my team. ”
Western lost six seniors from last season, including two of its top three scorers in guards Kyle Impero and Ricardo Maxwell. As one of only two seniors on the team, Parker said he has taken on more of a leadership role this year.
“Guys are really looking up to me,” Parker said. “I have to bring that example every day in practice and in games.”
Stafford is entering his first season of eligibility after transferring to Western from the University of Evansville in 2015.
“I am really excited,” Stafford said. “Sitting this past year has made me extremely anxious to get out there, give my all and make my team and family proud.”
Western won its first exhibition game 110-57 over Capilano University at Whatcom Pavilion on Tuesday, Nov. 1, and completed its preseason with a 109-103 loss to Division I opponent University of Washington in Seattle on Thursday, Nov. 3. Western was able to hold University of Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz, a projected top-three pick in the 2017 NBA draft according to Sports Illustrated’s 2017 draft rankings, to 14 points. Parker led all scorers with 28 points while Dreschel boasted an impressive statline of 13 points, eight assists, six rebounds and six steals.
Head coach Tony Dominguez said there were plenty of positives to take away from the game.
“For us to compete with them, take the lead and have a chance to win, our guys can really feel like we have a highly talented team,” Dominguez said.
One of the areas Dominguez hopes to see improvement is rebounding. Western was out rebounded 51-29 against the University of Washington.
Western begins its regular season against Sonoma State University in the Pioneer Challenge at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, in Hayward, California.
The first home game of the season is against Holy Names University at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at Whatcom Pavilion. Western opens up GNAC regular season play on the road against Saint Martin’s University at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, in Lacey, Washington.