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Thursday, May 13, 2021

The comeback queens

By Andrew McClain

What’s better than a basketball game? How about a basketball tournament?

Sam Carver Gymnasium played host to three visiting teams for the West Region Crossover tournament this past weekend. The women’s basketball tournament included participants from California and Washington state and represented the start to several of the teams’ regular seasons.

Each team played two times in back-to-back games on Nov. 9-10. The Vikings dropped their first game against the Humboldt State University Lumberjacks, but picked up the second in spectacular fashion versus the Fresno Pacific University Sunbirds.

The Vikings’ first game woes started early as they struggled to take the lid off the basket. They shot a dismal 27.6 percent from the field and went zero for six from three-point range in the first half.

Western Washington University women’s basketball player Avery Dykstra dribbles the ball during a game against Humboldt State University on Nov. 9, 2018 at Carver Gym. The Vikings lost the game 66-76. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

The Lumberjacks deserve credit for the tough brand of defense they played that saw passing and driving lanes choked off before they could even be recognized, resulting in a frustrating 13 turnovers for the Vikings in the game.

However as the second half started, the Vikings found some life and began to shoot at a much better rate. From the third quarter onward, their field goal percentage shot up to a respectable 41.45 percent. The game suddenly became much more competitive as the Vikings managed to battle their way within ten points of the lead on multiple occasions.

Despite the second half being more closely contested, the Lumberjacks’ efforts were too much to overcome as the Vikings were eventually outscored 76-66.

The box score revealed a few silver linings in the loss, though. Junior forward Anna Schwecke had an impressive night across the board. She went 50 percent from the floor, hit all seven of her free throw attempts and pulled down a game-leading 12 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Emma Duff also had a big game on the boards, snatching up an impressive seven offensive rebounds and proving to be a constant disruption as she gave the opposition fits in the paint.

Schwecke characterized the game as a bit of a let down for the team, saying she felt they didn’t come out in the first half with the sense of urgency they needed to. However, she also called the loss a good learning experience and said the team would try to apply lessons learned to their Saturday game.

Boy, did they ever.

Western Washington University women’s basketball player Gracie Castaneda takes a shot during a game against Humboldt State University on Nov. 9, 2018 at Carver Gym. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

The tone of the game against the Fresno Pacific University Sunbirds was different right from the start. Junior guard Dani Iwami kept the defense on their toes as she repeatedly drove to the rim to collapse coverage. Iwami acted as a magnet for defenders as they found themselves out of position time and again. That left Iwami with ample opportunities to kick the ball out to open teammates, resulting in a game-high six assists to go with her 11 points.

Better start aside, the game was still a hard-fought battle with both teams going up by almost double-digits at various points in the game. But as the time on the clock started to tick down, it was the Sunbirds who held the lead.

When Duff, the only player in the game to net a double-double, fouled out with four minutes on the clock, the Sunbirds rallied and added another four points to their three-point lead.

With three minutes left in the game, the Vikings were down by seven points and things were looking bleak. Throughout the game, they struggled to keep the Sunbirds, who had double the Vikings’ free throw attempts, off the foul line. Going down the stretch, it began to look like that advantage might seal the win for the visiting team.

Then the buckets started to rain in.

Sophomore guard Gracie Castaneda drained a two, followed shortly by three points from Iwami to bring the Vikings within two of the lead. After that, it was the Schwecke Show.

With less than two minutes left in the game, Schwecke went on an absolute tear, scoring seven of her ten points during that short span. Getting into the paint with the ball, she forced a foul to prevent the easy layup and made the Sunbirds pay for it anyways as she hit two of two free throws to tie the game up.

Gracie Castaneda, sophomore guard, fends off a defender in the Saturday game against Fresno Pacific University on Nov. 10 in Sam Carver Gymnasium. // Photo by Matthew Tangeman

Then, after the Sunbirds hit a two-pointer, it was Schwecke right back at them with a layup off a slick feed from junior guard Lexie Bland to keep the game tied at an intense 63-63.

After the Vikings got a much-needed defensive stop, Schwecke managed to get to the line once more. She hit one of two free throws, giving the Vikings their first lead in six minutes with only 15 seconds left on the clock.

The Sunbirds weren’t going to lose lying down, though. They forced the ball into the paint and drew a foul from the Vikings, which resulted in a pair of made free throws to give the Sunbirds the lead again.

With nine seconds left on the clock and a one-point deficit to overcome, sophomore forward Kelsey Rogers dished out one of her two assists for the game to Schwecke in the low block. With a clean pivot toward the baseline, Schwecke found enough space to get up a shot. The left-handed layup banked off the backboard and snugged through the net to give the Vikings the lead as the hushed crowd roared to life.

Three seconds were left on the clock and the Vikings needed one last defensive effort to secure the win. The Sunbirds called a timeout and set their play, but the Vikings’ defense made itself felt as they managed to alter the last shot without fouling and it-clanked off the rim. The home crowd gave a resounding cheer as the buzzer sounded, announcing a Vikings win, with a final score of 66-65.

Head coach Carmen Dolfo expressed relief at the win, but said the score was definitely too close for comfort. She pointed out that there’s still some work to do on their offensive flow, however she also noted the Vikings’ defensive efforts had vastly improved from their loss the previous night.

“It was a good win for us,” Dolfo said.

Duff credited her teammates with remaining positive when the game threatened to get away from them. She praised the mental toughness and discipline of the team as a whole that kept them in the mix until the closing seconds of the hotly contested game, earning them the victory.

This tournament put the Vikings at 1-1 to start the season and, as Schwecke stated during her post-game interview, gave them some feedback on what the team needs to work on for their next outing.

The Vikings will play their next game against the University of California San Diego Tritons. That game starts at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16, and will be away at the Sodexo Tip-off Classic located at the Brougham Pavilion in Seattle.

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