By Jordan Stone
SEATTLE — It was a leaping steal of an inbounds pass by sophomore guard Avery Dykstra with 22 seconds left in the game that was the difference for the Vikings women’s basketball team Friday, March 6.
“Avery has got long arms and she put the pressure on,” head coach Carmen Dolfo said. “Avery plays so hard and tirelessly. She is such a great defender.”
The Vikings were leading by three when Dykstra got the steal and they held on to win 66-63 over Northwest Nazarene University. The Vikings will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7 for the GNAC Championship title against the University of Alaska Anchorage.
After Dykstra got the steal, junior forward Kelsey Rogers went to the line for two sets of free throws. She made all four attempts to snag the win.
“Confidence,” Rogers said, was going through her mind. “I know I can make free throws.”
Rogers finished the game with 24 points, two rebounds and two blocks. She scored 10 of the Vikings’ first 12 points of the game, and their last 10 of the game.
After struggling out of the gate, the Vikings responded in the second half. The Vikings led by as many as 16 in the third quarter.
“We didn’t do a great job keeping them off the offensive boards,” Dolfo said. “I think the offensive boards and turnovers were the two things we were trying to focus on.”
Northwest Nazarene chipped away, cutting the Vikings lead to as little as one point late in the fourth quarter.
“I think sometimes when you’re up, you play on your heels instead of going at them,” Dolfo said. “We let them have that run and then we settled in and got really determined defensively. I think we had some key stops that kept them from coming back.”
Seniors Anna Schwecke and Lexie Bland had big performances for the Vikings, but it was their leadership that really stood out according to Dolfo.
“They’ve been awesome,” she said. “They have stepped up and carried us and we want to do this for them.”
Schwecke had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Bland had 17 points of her own. Bland also had four assists and three steals, but committed nine turnovers.
She credited her team for giving her ability to bounce back after halftime.
“Going into halftime I was pretty shook up about that,” Bland said. “They stood behind me and made me forget about it.”
Dolfo wasn’t worried about the turnovers, noting that those are just part of the deal with a playmaker like Bland.
“When you make things happen like Lexie does, some turnovers come with it,” Dolfo said. “We are definitely fine with that.”
The referees were blowing their whistles constantly, calling 36 fouls between the two teams.
This was the third meeting between Northwest Nazarene and Western this season. The two teams went 1-1 against each other previously, winning in each other’s gyms. The last meeting was back on Feb. 13 when Northwest Nazarene came to Bellingham and won 79-72.
“We’ve had two, now three really tight games with NNU,” Dolfo said. “They are a great team and they play so hard and they play well together. We feel very fortunate to come out with a victory.”
The Vikings will turn their attention to Saturday’s championship game, when they play the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Vikings split the season series 1-1, with each team winning at home. The last game was back on Feb. 26, when the Vikings visited Anchorage. Anchorage won that game 83-76.
Tomorrow’s winner will move onto the NCAA II West regionals which begin on Friday, March 13.