Feb. 11, 2011
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
by JOE SUNNEN - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Winning has never been an unusual thing for the Western Washington University women's basketball program. In 40 years it's rolled up 850 wins, one of just 15 schools in the NCAA to reach that mark in any division.
Playing with the same starting five for a whole season - well, that's a whole lot more rare at WWU.
Thanks to quite a bit of luck and a lot of selflessness the Vikings are on pace to start the same group of players - Amanda Dunbar, Megan Pinske, Lauren Hefflin, Gabby Wade, and Corinn Waltrip - for a full season for the first time since 2002-03. Whether it's injuries, ineffectiveness or just going with a gut feeling and inserting a new face, having the same five start night after night for a full season just doesn't happen very often.
"We've been super lucky," WWU coach Carmen Dolfo said in a phone interview. "Usually it's injuries that force you to make changes, but sometimes you just need to shake things up and try a different combination. The biggest reason we've stayed with this lineup is that so far it's been working."
Has it ever.
The Vikings (20-1, 13-0 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) are off to one of their best starts in years. They're ranked No. 7 in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association USA Today/ESPN NCAA Division II Top 25, and second in the West Region poll. Western hosts Simon Fraser University on Saturday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at Carver Gym.
"Our chemistry has been the big thing for us," Dolfo said. "Everybody's excited, everybody can score, and everybody understands their roles. Everybody has different strengths and we've been able to play to those strengths."
Whether consistency helps build chemistry is anyone's guess, but the Vikings have both this season. They're also riding a 15-game winning streak and have a commanding lead in the conference with six games left in the regular season.
That's not bad for a team that features three guards and just one player over 6 feet in its starting lineup.
"It's a super small lineup," Dolfo said. "It wasn't really our intention to be that small when we started the season. It was just the best thing for us. It has hurt us when it comes to rebounding, but it's helped to have two guards who are able to handle the ball."
It also doesn't hurt to have a bench as versatile and selfless as Western's has proved to be. Junior Kristin Schramm provides an offensive punch and solid defense when she comes into games, while sophomore posts Erika Ramstead and Britt Harris bring size and energy.
In some respects it wouldn't be a reach to think the Vikings have a starting eight.
"You look at our team and we have other players who could start besides the five that do," Dolfo said. "What we do just works for us. Kristin, Erika, and Britt are the three who get the most minutes coming off the bench and they've done a very good job giving us what we need."
Dolfo said Western's ability to define its roles on the court and within the team has also helped build confidence. The players understand what's expected of them and have been able to thrive.
"As a player I think you want to know what your role is," Dolfo said. "You want to know what you're supposed to do. I think having the same starters has helped us with that."
Of course that doesn't mean starting the same five players throughout the whole season is a magic recipe for success.
The last team to do it at WWU - that 2002-03 squad - finished 22-6, but lost in the opening round of the NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament. The 2005-06 squad finished 27-2 and reached the West Regional semifinals and had six players make at least one start. The 2004-05 team started eight different players at some point during the season and also reached the semifinal round.
And the 2007-08 squad that was hammered by injuries and finished 9-21 overall, they had 12 different players make at least one start. Maybe it all does just come down to good luck.