It’s been a long season full of game postponements and uncertainty for the Western Washington University women’s basketball team, but that didn’t deter head coach Carmen Dolfo.
“We’ve tried to focus this year on taking one game at a time,” Dolfo said.
And that focus has paid off. The Vikings placed second at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament over the past weekend after wins against Saint Martin's University and Montana State Billings University. They then lost 46-57 against Central Washington University in the championship game.
Senior guard-forward Emma Duff and sophomore forward Brooke Walling both had a great tournament. Duff averaged 16 points per game over the three tournament games. Walling averaged 14.7 ppg.
“I had to be really strong with the ball. Keep holding my seals and getting open for my team,” Walling said.
Quarter-Finals vs. Saint Martin’s University
This was the first time Western faced off against SMU. Western wasn’t able to play them during the regular season due to both games being postponed.
Western held Saint Martin’s to 36.2% from the field overall but locked SMU up early. Saint Martin’s shot 2/14 in the first quarter and went up 11 early at the end of the first.
The Vikings did not shoot the ball great but outrebounded Saint Martin’s by 12. They also executed well assisting on 15 of the 24 baskets.
With 10 seconds remaining in the first half Western led the Saints 27-20. Then SMU’s Josie Matz was fouled and successfully converted three free throws.
Immediately after Matz’s free throws, officials called players back to their bench and called an intentional foul against Walling after reviewing footage sending SMU’s Claire Dingus to the line.
With 3.4 seconds remaining, the Saints got the ball and SMU Freshman Rian Clear was able to tie the game at the half.
Duff understood the assignment after halftime. She ended up scoring 14 of the Vikings’ 20 points in the fourth quarter. Duff expanded the Viking’s lead to 9 with back-to-back three-pointers late in the game.
In the end, the Vikings beat the Saints 60-54.
Walling led the Vikings in scoring with 19 points followed by Duff and Gracie Casteneda with 14 and 10 points respectively.
On the SMU side, the Saints were led by Matz scoring 15 points with Clear and Tierney DeDonatis with 12 points each.
Semifinals vs. Montana State University Billings
This was also the first time the two teams met this season. Again, due to game postponements.
The Vikings played defensively and only allowed MSU 16.7% shooting in the first quarter.
“We like to pressure and get into people, and I thought they did a good job tonight,” Dolfo said.
The Vikings kept up the defense at the start of the second quarter expanding their lead to 15 points. Then with 6:15 remaining the Yellowjackets fought back going on an 11-2 run into the half.
The Vikings opened the second half looking to expand their 27-21 lead over MSU. They came out swinging, preventing MSU from scoring for the first five minutes. Then Western went on a 13-5 run to the end of the third quarter.
It looked like it could be over for the Yellowjackets who entered the fourth quarter down 53-38. But then MSU went on a 19-9 led by Junior Cariann Kunkel.
Kunkel converted back-to-back three-point plays in the fourth quarter. With just 30 seconds remaining she was able to convert two free throws making this a two-possession game.
Western was barely leading 64-60 until a series of last-minute free-throws by Duff pushed Western over the edge 69-63 against MSU.
“They started fouling us [and] the game plan [was] I would be the one at the free-throw line,” Duff said.
Championship vs. Central Washington University
It was an exciting showdown at Marcus Pavillion when GNAC rivals WWU and CWU battled it out for the conference title.
The Vikings were held to 25% shooting from the field. In addition, for the first time this season, they scored less than 50 points.
CWU was held to 40.4% shooting (19-47). The Vikings were leading halfway through the second quarter until an 11-0 run by CWU turned a five-point lead into a six-point deficit.
After their run, the Wildcats controlled the remainder of the game.
Central would continue to expand their lead in the third quarter. With 37 seconds left in the period the Wildcats were up 43-31.
Western was able to cut CWU’s lead to 6 points with slightly more than two minutes left in the game.
GNAC Player of the Year Kassidy Malcolm led the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points closely followed by Jenna Troy with 13 points.
Central Junior Samantha Bowman was named the GNAC tournament MVP and scored 12 points on Saturday. Bowman also set a GNAC record with 23 rebounds against the Vikings.
In a post-game interview CWU women’s basketball coach Randi Richardson-Thornley talked briefly about the Vikings lead and Head Coach Dolfo.
“I have so much respect for Carmen and what she has done,” Richardson-Thornley said. “They’re so well-coached, they play so hard and our players all know that.”
Both Central and Western will advance to the West Regional in Hayward, California. Central received an automatic entry after winning their first GNAC title, while Western was awarded an at-large spot.
Western will play University of Alaska Anchorage on Friday, March 11 at noon. Coincidentally, Western was poised to play UAA in the West Regional in 2020 before the postseason was canceled. CWU will face Northwest Nazarene University on Friday, March 11 at 2:30 p.m.
Drew McFall (He/him) is a sports and recreation writer for the Western Front this quarter. He is a news editorial major with a minor in communications. He wants to be a sports journalist or broadcaster. As a reporter, he wants to focus on WWU sports teams and players. In his free time, he loves watching sports, playing sports, and running on trails.