The best offense is a good defense. At least that’s what the leaders of the Western women’s basketball team will tell you.
Despite having four players all currently averaging double-digit points per game, the players insist a good defense is the key to their success.
“Defense wins,” said junior forward Tia Briggs about the Vikings’ style of play. “A lot of our points honestly come off of our stops.”
Behind the defense Western has enjoyed an 12-5 start to its season, with a 8-1 mark in conference play, thanks in no small part to the scoring ability of four of their veteran players.
Collectively they make up about 72 percent of the team’s scoring output.
However, the players insist that it is head coach Carmen Dolfo’s defense-first scheme and a focus on sharing the ball that have benefited their individual numbers.
“Carmen has no interest in outscoring other people,” Taylor Peacocke said about their approach. “She wants to win off defense. We really don’t look at how many points we had at the end of the game, or who had what. It’s more like, ‘How was our defense? How did we play together?’ That’s the first thing she asks us after every single game.”
“It’s all about ‘we’ all the time,” Kayla Bernsen added.
That much is apparent just listening to these women talk of their teammates.
First there is Peacocke, whom Dolfo has praised for her switch to the team’s primary point guard after playing most of her career in a shooting guard role.
Peacocke is the team’s leading scorer over the last two seasons. She leads by example and brings a quiet intensity to the court.
“There’s something in her eyes that’s there, there’s so much passion,” Bernsen says laughing. “She’s the hardest worker on the floor.”
“She’s someone everyone can depend on to be there,” Briggs said. “Seeing her work hard inspires other people to do the same and work hard for her.”
If Peacocke is the team’s quiet passion, then Bernsen is the team’s rowdy, emotional leader. A 6’3 center, she brings the most experience to the team as well as a fire her teammates say they feed off.
“What I really love about Kayla is that she’s passionate about everything. It brings excitement to the game,” Briggs said of her fellow player. “She’s honestly our loudest person on the team as well as the person who is our spirit-starter. She gets everyone pumped up.”
Peacocke talked about Bernsen’s presence in the post.
“Her presence on the floor opens everything up,” Peacocke said of Bernsen. “In the majority of the games we’ve played, Kayla gets doubled or tripled and she gets the ball out. That’s why our inside-out game is so important. They start shutting down our guards and Kayla gets hot.”
Briggs is the more fun-loving member of the group. Described by her teammates as goofy and sweet, Briggs is the team’s Swiss Army knife. She rolls back in her seat with laughter often throughout the meeting.
“I think Tia could be the leading score post on any other team, but for us I’m on the block a lot,” Bernsen said. “Tia can drive, even though she might not look a really good driver, but she’s amazing. And she can shut down the best driver on any other team.”
Not only is she versatile on offense, but also on defense.
“Tia’s the most flexible person we have. If we need her to guard a guard, she’ll guard a guard. If we need her to be on the perimeter, she’ll be on the perimeter. If we need her on the block, she’ll be on the block,” Peacocke added of Briggs.
The last member of the group is Kiana Gandy. Her teammates speak highly of her defensive prowess, handling skills and ability to be the level head of the group.
“Kiana’s just hard to guard,” Peacocke said of Gandy, eliciting laughter from Briggs and Bernsen. “She’s so strong and so deliberate. When she has her eyes on that basket, you’re not going to come between her and putting that ball in the hoop. [On defense] she does have to guard the best player on the team, and she doesn’t care. She steps up and she wants that job.”
Having four players who can score has helped alleviate some of the pressure off the offense and allows the Vikings to take better shots. This shows with the Vikings leading the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in field goal percentage with a 39 percent conversion rate.
With 12 games left in the year, the players are confident they can face any challenges that come their way down the stretch.
“Things don’t always go the way you plan, but we’re used to it now,” Bernsen said. “We just adjust to whatever comes our way and I think that’s pretty indicative to how we play.”