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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

‘Continuity breeds confidence’

By Andrew McClain

As a university with a legacy of exceptional women’s basketball teams, it would be all too easy to look at the Viking’s 12-16 win-loss column from last season and write the year off as a bust. Some people might even be tempted to make assumptions about what that means for this year’s performance.

However, if you were a conference rival of the Vikings, that would be one of the worst mistakes you could make.

Let’s forget for a moment that when you look at the bio page for head coach and four time Great Northwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Year Carmen Dolfo, you’ll notice that she has never, in her 27 seasons at Western, coached back-to-back losing seasons.

We could also ignore the fact that the last time the Vikings had a losing season, back in 2008, they rebounded the next year and put together nine consecutive winning seasons, seven of which were 20+ win seasons.

What you can’t ignore, though, is the power of continuity. That’s something this Vikings team has in spades.

From the coaching staff, like seven-year assistant coach Stacey Turrell and player-turned-assistant Amanda Lance, to the players on the floor, the returning faces far outnumber the new ones. That can be a huge advantage for a sport like basketball, where trust in your teammates and their abilities is paramount to success. It also helps explain where some of last year’s deficiencies came from.

According to Dolfo, last year’s squad suffered from two major issues: losing talent, either to graduation or injury, and lack of experience.

Dolfo acknowledged that all collegiate coaches deal with graduating players, but the amount of seniors on the 2016-2017 team far outweighed the number of seniors on last year’s team, shrinking from six to just two.

As a natural extension of losing so many veteran players, experience was also lacking. Dolfo combated the issue by experimenting with player minutes. She adjusted rotations last year to get her newer players more game time, which typically results in players being more comfortable on the floor during games, even in crunch time situations.

Teammates huddle on the court during a pre-season practice at Sam Carver Gymnasium. // Photo by Andrew McClain

Despite these obstacles, the Vikings remained in contention for the playoffs until the last game of the year, where they narrowly missed their chance at a postseason run.

“We were just so young, and learning, and I think we got better [as the season progressed],” Dolfo said. “But we needed to get over that last hump [to make the playoffs], and we just weren’t able to do that.”

That almost-but-not-quite finish to last season only seems to have motivated Dolfo’s team, as this squad looks determined to make the 2018-2019 season count.

Dani Iwami, a junior and last year’s GNAC Newcomer of the Year award winner, looked focused during practice as she led her team though cutting, passing and scoring drills.

“Our confidence and chemistry is really building, so there’s no reason to not be very confident going into the season,” Iwami said.

Iwami also gave credit to her teammates on their preseason effort, pointing specifically to the work they’d done in the weightroom in an effort to give them an edge on the court.

Looking particularly formidable stands 6-foot-3-inch tall forward, Anna Schwecke. A junior, and last year’s leading rebounder, Schwecke put up some eye-popping numbers last season. She set a career and team record of 28 points, career-best of 17 rebounds and finished third in field goal percentage for the season with a highly efficient .522 percent.

With senior Hannah Stipanovich’s graduation, the Vikings have lost their second-best rebounder from last year, but Schwecke addressed the perception that they might struggle in that department this year with full confidence.

“Hannah was a great rebounder, so we’ll have to help pick up that slack, but everyone on the team has the ability to be amazing rebounders,” Schwecke said.

Schwecke emphasized the importance of the team having each other’s backs to help make rebounding easier and finished by saying she didn’t think it would be a problem for them.

The women’s team will play their first preseason game against the Trinity Western Spartans on Monday, Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. in Sam Carver Gymnasium.

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