By Zach Slagle
When it comes to electing team captains, typically upperclassmen and — at the very least — previous starters get the nod.
First-year starter Lexie Bland, a 5-foot-6 sophomore guard on Western women’s basketball team, is the exception.
Coach Carmen Dolfo said Bland plays and sees the court like a program veteran, despite entering only her second season with the team.
The respect Bland earned from both her teammates and Dolfo last year helped her become one of the two captains this season.
Bland said she learned from the six seniors her freshman season on how to carry herself in order to gain that respect.
“[Last year’s] seniors showed me that I have to demand respect,” Bland said. “I don’t want it to be a power role. Being able to lead by example, showing up focused everyday ready to empower someone else. It’s not always as powerful coming from a coaches as it is coming from your teammates.”
Last Spring, after losing six veterans, Dolfo called senior Hannah Stipanovich and Bland into her office to present them with their new roles. Led by the two captains, the Vikings currently hold a 3-3 record.
Redshirt freshman Drew Morris said she can see why the two were chosen.
“It was very fitting,” Morris said. “They both have really loud voices on the team, positive and directing.”
Bland’s teammates this year said they appreciate the concern and communication she and Stipanovich have for this year’s young team.
“I have so much faith in Lexie and Hannah,” sophomore Dani Iwami said. “They’re vocal and hold you accountable. [They’ve] done a great job making sure what they say isn’t negative or bringing people down. They’re talking to you, not at you.”
Bland’s leadership and inspiration to play basketball came from within the family and the very barn she worked in.
She and her two sisters, Andrea and Shannon Bland, were born into a close-knit farming family, with her grandparents living right down the road in Ellensburg, Washington.
“My passion for basketball came from watching my cousins and sisters play,” Bland said. “My sisters and I had a hoop in our barn and we would always play P-I-G.”
Bland started playing basketball in kindergarten, then competitively in third grade. By middle school she was traveling with her team to play tournaments across different states.
Bland’s tenacity and dedication to basketball has been tested physically. Last year, as a freshman, she suffered a torn meniscus along with double-dislocating her pinky.
Heading into her freshmen year at Ellensburg High School, Bland suffered a stress fracture in her vertebrae then tore her ACL before her junior season, leaving her questioning if she wanted to come back.
“Sitting out from injuries isn’t really my thing,” Bland said. “When I [tore my ACL] it was like, ‘Is this something I really want to come back from?’ But once I did, it was no questions asked. It felt like it was where I belonged.”
Her junior year, just after recovering from her torn ACL, she led her team to a third-place finish in the 2A state tournament. As a starter at Ellensburg High School she averaged 18 points with six rebounds, five assists and six steals a game. She also led her team to two fifth-place finishes her sophomore and senior year.
Her high school career ended and it was time for Bland to decide which school to continue her education and reach her full basketball potential. She considered Western, longtime adversaries with Lexie’s hometown college, Central Washington University.
“I had looked into Western growing up because it’s Central’s big rival,” Bland said. “It wasn’t that I wanted to go against Central, but it was the better fit for me. I wanted to have a different experience than Ellensburg. I didn’t want to be trapped there.”
Her final decision to go to Western stirred up reaction back home from peers, but working on her father’s farm limited the exposure of life outside of Ellensburg.
“Working on the farm wasn’t my ultimate dream,” she said.
She began attending Western last fall to study kinesiology and further her basketball career, and was intimidated by the veterans of the team. Bland was the lone freshman on last year’s roster not to be redshirted, enabling her to travel on road trips.
“[My freshmen year] was a lot more challenging than I expected,” Bland said. “Western always has this high standard of ‘We do things right, we work hard and we do what we’re supposed to do.’ It was really intimidating coming into that because all the women on the team last year were presentable and carried themselves so well every day of practice. But it helped me learn a lot in what I want and who I want to be.”