Both Vikings basketball teams finished their regular seasons Saturday, Feb. 25 with home wins on senior night. Now, the teams will be rolling into the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with first round byes while they prepare to take on their next challengers.
“I believe we can win a national championship. We have all the pieces and talent. It just comes down to playing with heart, we’re with the top-level teams in the nation."
The Western men’s basketball team are heading into the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament with a 17-3 record.
The No. 17 ranked men’s team, who already clinched the top seed in the GNAC tournament, cruised to a convincing 90-66 win over Saint Martin’s University and collected the regular season champions banner afterward, as they finished with a 17-3 record in GNAC play.
“I’m very excited, we obviously are seeking this every year,” head coach Tony Dominguez said. “I’m very happy and proud of our players. They really buy into our system.”
The game was guard Taylor Stafford and forward Jeffrey Parker’s last home game as a Viking.
“I’m just so ecstatic, this was just a great career. I had so much fun,” Parker said.
Stafford said he became emotional after the game from the support fans gave the team.
The pair of seniors said they are confident in heading into the GNAC tournament and the future.
“We can go as far as we want to go. This year the games we lost, we beat ourselves,” Stafford said. “There is not a team I can say we played that was better than us.”
Parker feels strongly about the team’s chances.
“I believe we can win a national championship. We have all the pieces and talent. It just comes down to playing with heart, we’re with the top-level teams in the nation,” Parker said.
Dominguez said the GNAC is a competitive league, but talent doesn't guarantee success.
“[With] our talent, the sky’s the limit. We can go as far as we’ve ever gone,” Dominguez said. “Sometimes that’s not how basketball always works. I think we’ve just got to continue to play better defense and sharpen up some things.”
Parker, who is 20 points shy of the all-time Western scoring record of 1,844 held by Grant Dykstra (2002-2006), feels honored to have a chance to set the record at the tournament.
Parker has averaged 16 points per game this season.
With the top seed, the men’s team will wait to see who will win between No. 4 Saint Martin’s University and No. 5 Concordia University. They will play the winner of that game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 3, in Lacey.
The Vikings women’s basketball team heads into the GNAC tournament on a less positive note after seeing its 17-game winning streak snapped by University of Alaska Anchorage on Feb. 23.
The No. 16 women got back into the win column with a 78-71 victory in a back-and-forth game with University of Alaska Fairbanks Saturday, Feb. 25 and secured their No. 2 seed and first round bye, with an 18-2 GNAC record.
Before the game, six seniors were honored during senior night. All five starters are seniors consisting of guards Taylor Peacocke and Jessica Valley, forwards Kiana Gandy and Rachel Albert, center Tia Briggs as well as backup forward Aleisha Hathaway. All five starters also finished with double-digit scoring totals.
“This group is super special. They have this great bond. Not only do they play well on the court together but they have this great bond off the floor,” head coach Carmen Dolfo said.
The team is ready for the postseason and preparing for the GNAC tournament, Briggs said.
“We’re super excited, we’re ready to go kick some booty down in Lacey,” Briggs said.
However, the preparation stays the same going into the playoffs, Albert and Dolfo said.
“For the past month, we’ve been treating each game as if it’s a playoff game. Each game matters,” Albert said.
Dolfo said nothing will change and the team is going to practice hard and watch game film.
The team looks forward to another shot at playing the University of Alaska Anchorage, the undefeated top seed in the tournament.
“We have some unfinished business with them and I think that they know,” Albert said.
Briggs added the team seeks some revenge and another shot at victory against Anchorage.
The teams met twice this season and the Seawolves won both matchups. Alaska Anchorage won the first 80-69 Dec. 3 in Alaska. The Vikings narrowed the gap in the second game, narrowly losing 75-72 in double-overtime on Feb. 23 at Whatcom Pavilion.
Dolfo said even though the team wants a rematch, they are making sure to play one game at a time and not look too far forward.
Dolfo said at this point deep in the season, mental strength becomes a larger factor in games.
“There’s a lot of fatigue, we went into double overtime against Anchorage and didn’t come out on top. We played a lot of minutes but these girls are seasoned,” Dolfo said. “They’re seniors, and they know how to do it.”
The women will play the winner between Simon Fraser University and Central Washington University at noon Friday, March 3 in Lacey.
Western swept the season series against both teams during the regular season, outscoring Central by an average of 11 points and Simon Fraser by an average of 9 points.
A pair of wins for either team will net them the GNAC championship, as well as automatic entry to the NCAA Division II National Tournament, starting at the West Regionals, where both teams are seeded third. Those games will take place March 11-14.