BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
By Gerardo Bolong, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES- NEWS
Mount Rainier High School graduate Kiana Gandy finished her sophomore year on the NCAA Division II Western Washington University women's basketball team by showing good growth as her role on the team increased.
She played in all 30 games, averaging 6.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Her total of 100 rebounds was fifth on the team while she led or tied for Viking game-high rebounds three times. She also was fifth in blocked shots. Her strongest continuous stretch of play was when she scored in double figures in five of six games, shooting 24-of-44 from the field.
"Last year, I was more of a defender," she said. "This season, I became more offensive minded, stepped up and had higher expectations," Gandy said. "I'm driving, penetrating and looking more for open people while also getting other people open. I've become more of a shooter and more well-rounded. My strength conditioning also helped."
These traits embodied themselves in a fashion against Simon Fraser University on Feb. 28. The hard working athlete came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points on 7-of-12 field goal shooting and 5-of-5 free throws along with five rebounds at Sam Carver Gymnasium on the WWU campus.
Leading only 45-43 at one point, the Vikings responded with a 7-0 burst to keep SFU in the rear view mirror the rest of the way. Gandy scored the first five points of the decisive charge that led to a 72-65 win. This was a major milestone for the Ram alumnus in a season where she was one of the top reserves in the Viking efforts that featured strong bench play as part of the formula for success in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and beyond.
The former Ram displays athleticism and speed to change the pace of the game. Her defense is also impressive and she can attack the basket. She's also toiling hard to improve her jump shot.
"I would say just looking to step up and attacking the basket and not thinking 'Oh, a senior will do it,' " Gandy told a Bellingham Herald reporter regarding her improvement since her freshman year.
Strong backing from the Viking coaching staff builds a strong foundation, as well.
"Coach Dolfo expects so much from you," said Gandy. "She has so much confidence."
As a senior at Mount Rainier High School, the 5-foot-10 Gandy helped the Rams to a 27-2 record, league and district titles, and third place at the Class 4A state tournament while averaging 14.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Mount Rainier's team captain her last two seasons went along with a season-high 27 points against Kentridge.
In her junior year, she averaged 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds on a 22-7 Ram squad that ended up seventh in the state with a season-high 19 rebounds in one match up.
"One of my first visits to a university was to Western in Bellingham," the former Ram athlete added. "Coach Dolfo seemed intense and very competitive, but once I got a chance to know her, she was also really nice and showed she was really caring.The team seemed so connected and so tight. It was just like a family." Gandy, who earned first-team South Puget Sound League North Division all-star accolades, signed a national letter of intent to play women's basketball at WWU in May, 2012.
In the announcement, Viking coach Carmen Dolfo explained what qualities made Gandy stand out.
"She's got great athleticism, great potential and she's a great student," said Dolfo. "That combination makes her a wonderful addition to our team."
Sitting out as redshirt freshman (due to Western graduating only one senior from a 22-8 team that reached the NCAA II West Regional semifinals) and transitioning to the bench shaped her vision of the court and the game as a whole.
"It was tough (to sit), but it definitely gave me time to learn the game in a more strategic way and helped me greatly," she remembered. "I was always being a supporter and tried to be a helper when needed." Gandy also worked on the added intensity of everything such as balancing study time with the high expectations of the basketball coaches.
"I like to be challenged," she said.
During the summer after her redshirt year, she had even greater motivation to prepare.
"We had just gone to the final four and had lost four seniors to graduation," Gandy said. "I really worked hard over the summer. As I began playing, I also shifted my focus from myself and saw what I could do for my team. There are so many little things you can do for a teammate."
Also helping her strongly since childhood were her parents, who both inspired her to become a better player.
Sitting in the stands for most of her games is her father, Joe, who played at WWU from 1982-1984.
"My dad has coached me since I was little and goes to most of the games," she said. "If he's not there, he is live-streaming the games. He's the reason why I'm here."
Kiana Gandy began playing basketball when she was six years old and was coached by her father from kindergarten to second grade .
Adding many other sports to her childhood activities, she finally chose basketball.
"All the other sports teams I played on were teams of guys, but basketball was the only sport I played with girls. I could relate to them," she said.
It's really the team concept that sold her on basketball.
"No matter what you do, it doesn't just have a reflection on you, it has a reflection on the team," she explained.
Even with her father's strong influence and Western connection, Gandy eventually chose the Bellingham university on Sehome Hill as the site for her future academic and athletic endeavors on her own.
"It was always my own decision," Gandy said. "This is where he wanted me to go, but he left the decision completely up to me."
When she hit the court running in her freshman eligibility season, she had prepared well.
In the squad's first six games she scored 62 points and hauled home 25 rebounds.
During the freshman playing year, Gandy acquired a reputation for bringing energy off the bench as a positive game changer while averaging 3.9 points and 2.3 rebounds. She scored 15 points versus Fresno State and another 15 points against Azusa Pacific. Against UC San Diego she had eight rebounds and she dealt out six assists against Texas Womens.
This year she has become even more comfortable with college basketball and college life.
"I love knowing that home (Des Moines) is close for my parents to drive up and see me play to cheer me on," said Gandy. "During breaks, I usually stay at home and visit."
Other nice perks surfaced during her time at WWU.
"I've had opportunities to travel and appreciate the chance of being more responsible for myself. I'm more confident and self-sufficient."
For relaxation, the well-rounded Gandy keeps it simple.
"I watch Netflix and catch up on my sleep," she laughed.
Going forward, the energetic Gandy is ever enthusiastic.
"I want to be one of the hardest working people on the court all the time," she concluded.
With four seniors graduating, strong sophomores like Gandy will have opportunities to fill much larger roles next season.
In this, her 24th season as head coach at Western Washington University, coach Dolfo continued her "We not Me" motto that depends heavily upon contributions from all.
"Our consistency and success have been built on hard work and dedication to the concept of team, not individuals," said Dolfo in comments to a Bellingham Herald reporter at the close of a season that featured her 500th win and 18th consecutive 20-game win season. Dolfo has coached the Vikings to seven straight NCAA II West regional appearances and 15 overall.
Gandy plans to major in psychology and hopes to become a relationship therapist
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