2003-04 BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Oct. 13, 2003
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - There's always been a sense of continuity to the Western Washington University women's basketball team.
The Vikings have rarely had to rebuild, always seeming to have a new core of experienced players ready when another group departs. It is a formula that has worked for 31 winning records in 32 seasons, and 12 national tournament appearances, including trips in each of the last six years.
And it doesn't just apply to the players, it works for the coaches, too. Sara Nichols becomes the third head coach of a program that begins its 33rd year, stepping in on an interim basis for Carmen Dolfo, who is taking a one-year sabbatical from coaching.
Nichols understands the Viking way as well as anyone. A four-year letter winner as a player, she ranks third in school history in career assists (448), and was one of the captains on a team that reached the NCAA Division II national semifinals in 2000. Since then, she's been Western's top assistant coach. It is a path not unlike the one Dolfo followed to becoming head coach in 1990.
"I have a pride in the program that comes from being a part of it at every level," said Nichols. "There's an appreciation for the people who started the tradition and who have kept it going. And there's a passion that comes from being part of something bigger than yourself."
Western was 22-6 last year, reaching the opening round of the West Regional of the NCAA II National Tournament, and finishing second in the 10-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference at 15-3. Six players return from that team, including two of the top five scorers.
The Vikings are led by two seniors who have been regular contributors from the day they stepped on the floor as freshmen. Forward Tessa DeBoer (Lynden/Lynden Christian) and center Jenn McGillivray (Salem, OR/S. Salem) each bring a bruising inside presence. Their games are different in other respects, but they are well-prepared to share the mantle of leadership.
"That's developed over four years," Nichols said of the leadership provided by the two seniors. "They've been to three national tournaments, they've had three different results. They've seen what it takes to get there and to go beyond, and they'll be able to draw on that."
DeBoer averaged 9.5 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds, finishing seventh in the GNAC in the latter category. She has a knack for the quiet contributions, often shutting down the opposition's top scorer.
"Tessa is so dedicated and so focused," Nichols said. "She never misses a workout, never cuts corners, and that gives her consistency. She's passionate about what she does, and she's an incredible role model, not just in basketball, but in all of life."
McGillivray did not make a start last season, but averaged double figures for the third consecutive year, contributing 12.2 points a game and earning honorable mention all-GNAC status. She enters the season with 1,053 career points, the 16th-best mark in school history, and needs just 111 points to move into the Top 10. She shot 57.6 percent (114-of-198) from the field, ranking second in the GNAC, and made 72.1 percent of 140 free throws, her 5.2 attempts per game being the third most in the conference.
"Jen is motivated, she's planning to go out with a bang," said Nichols. "Jen is so strong - when she gets both hands on the ball, it's hers, you can't take it away. At times, she's able to do whatever she wants on the court."
Four other players who saw action a year ago also return. Back in the paint are two sophomores, forward Tina Donahue (Stanwood) and center Stephanie Dressel (Gig Harbor). Donahue contributed 4.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals, and has a blend of height and skills that allow her to play either in the post or on the perimeter.
"Tina is an incredible athlete," said Nichols. "She's just waiting for a breakout night, because when that happens it will give her the confidence to do anything. She's a great team player - she could get 28 or 30 points one night and 10 assists the next."
Dressel provided defensive depth in the post last year, averaging 2.3 points and 1.8 rebounds in 24 games. Nichols says Dressel could be one of the most improved players on the team.
"Steph really worked hard in the off-season and by the end of the spring, it was incredible how much she improved," Nichols said. "I'm really impressed with the jump she made."
Also back at forward is junior Jodi Gerald (Puyallup/Cascade Christian), who averaged 3.1 points and 2.0 rebounds, including a 13-point effort in a road victory at Humboldt State where her shooting broke open a close game.
"I think we'll see a lot more of that," said Nichols. "She understands our system and all the elements are coming together for her. Jodi has an incredible spirit - she works as hard as anyone on our team."
The fourth returnee is sophomore Samantha Hubbard (Carbonado/White River), who saw regular action as the backup point guard last season, averaging 2.5 points and 1.6 assists. She hit a buzzer-beating shot against Cal Poly Pomona, sending the contest to overtime, where the Vikings won, 78-69.
"I don't think I've ever met a more passionate player in my life," Nichols said of Hubbard. "What's so inspirational about her is that she doesn't care who scores or what happens as long as we win, and she's never scared to take on a challenge."
The other player who was in the program in 2002-03 is guard Kelly Colard (Elma), who redshirted last year after transferring from Whatcom CC. Colard, who can also play small forward, was twice a first-team all-North Region pick for the Orcas, averaging 12.0 points, 6.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds as a sophomore.
"Kelly is an incredible shooter and passer, and she's worked hard on attacking the hoop," said Nichols. "Sitting out last year has lit the fire of wanting to get back on the floor for her."
The returnees are joined by five newcomers. Three are freshmen, led by forward Krystal Robinson (Kent/Kentridge) and guard Devin Dykstra (Sumas/Nooksack Valley).
Robinson, who played in the state all-star game last summer, averaged 17.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.6 blocks as a senior, setting Kentridge High School records in the last two categories and career marks in all three.
"She has an amazingly quick first step, and her arm span is incredible, which helps her as a shot blocker," Nichols said of Robinson. "I'm really excited to work with her - she brings a great dimension to our program."
Dykstra was a first-team Class 2A all-State pick as a senior, averaging 15.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.2 steals. She started four years as a prep, playing for teams that reached the state tournament each season.
"I can't believe how feisty Devin is," Nichols said, noting Dykstra plays with a style similar to former Viking guard Julie Walker. "She's dedicated and she'll get the job done, it doesn't matter what gets in the way."
The other freshman is guard Angie Clift (Spokane/Ferris), who is expected to redshirt.
Also new to the Vikings are two transfers. Junior forward Piper Nims (Seattle/Roosevelt) played the last two years at Whatcom CC after redshirting at Western in 2000-01. She averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds to earn first-team all-region honors for the Orcas last year.
Sophomore forward Arielle White (Kent/Spanaway Lake) played in all 27 games at Saint Martin's last year. She will redshirt this year to meet GNAC transfer regulations.
Western opens the season with a pair of tournaments. The Vikings host New Mexico Highlands on Fri., Nov. 14 and face San Francisco State the following night in the Lynda Goodrich Classic, which also includes Saint Martin's. The following weekend, Western competes in the North Dakota State University Tournament.
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