2013-14 WWU Women's Basketball Preview: Vikings have talent, short on experience

Sarah Hill

Oct. 15, 2013

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BELLINGHAM, Wash. - With graduation claiming the top three scorers and a key returnee out because of a knee injury, the 2013-14 Western Washington University women's basketball team will have a much different look from the veteran squad that reached the NCAA Division II national semifinals last season.

The Vikings were 29-4 a year ago, claiming both the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season (17-1) and post-season tournament titles. They then won four NCAA II tournament contests, claiming the West Regional title and finally falling to eventual national champion Ashland, 66-54

Just two starters return among six letter winners for the new-look Vikings, who will seek to carry on a tradition of excellence that has seen them reach the post-season for 40 of the program's 42 years and go to the NCAA tournament 14 times in 15 seasons as a DII member.

"Having something new is always fun," said WWU head coach Carmen Dolfo (23rd year, 475-173), who is 25 wins away from becoming the first women's coach in state history among all colleges to reach 500 victories. "It's a new challenge, to be different and find our own identity. We can't compare ourselves with past teams, but we can learn from the past as we go forward."

The two starters back are 6-foot-3 senior center Sarah Hill (Richmond, VA/Lloyd C. Bird) and 5-9 junior guard Katie Colard (McCleary/Elma).

Hill, who averaged 6.2 points and pulled down a team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game, will be an important leader as the team's only senior.

"She runs the floor well, and she's always been a good defensive player and rebounder," Dolfo said of Hill. "She gives our team great energy and enthusiasm."

Colard averaged 7.6 points, hitting 60 shots and 32.1 percent from 3-point range. She is one of three juniors who saw extensive time in the rotation last year as sophomores. Sydney Donaldson (Edmonds/Edmonds-Woodway), a 6-0 forward, averaged 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 50.3 percent from the field, and made six starts. Jenni White (Spokane/East Valley), a 5-5 guard, averaged 3.9 points and 1.7 assists, and averaged 7.5 points in the last four NCAA tournament contests.

Another player in the regular rotation last year, 6-3 junior center Kayla Bernsen (Moses Lake), will miss the season because of a knee injury suffered this summer.

"They've never been in these roles before," said Dolfo of the group. "They're capable, but it's new. Katie has worked to expand her game and become more of a threat, Sydney will play more post this year with Kayla out, and Jenni took a huge step at the end of last season."

Also returning after lettering last year are 5-9 sophomore Aleisha Hathaway (Spokane/Shadle Park) and 5-8 junior Marcel Pounds (Bonney Lake). Each averaged 1.8 points and 1.0 rebounds.

An indication of WWU's youth is that the Vikings have six freshmen on the roster. Two of them, 5-10 Kiana Gandy (Des Moines/Mount Rainier) and 5-10 Jasmine McCleave (Renton/Holy Names Academy), return after redshirting last season.

Another redshirt freshman is 5-9 guard Taylor Peacocke (Kenmore/Inglemoor), who received a medical hardship after playing seven games at NCAA I Sacramento State. She was a second-team Associated Press Class 4A all-State pick as a high school senior.

The three true freshmen are 5-10 forward Rachel Albert (Bellingham/Sehome), 6-1 forward Tia Briggs (Tacoma/Wilson) and 6-3 center Jamika Parker (Chehalis/W.F. West).

Albert was a first-team Class 2A all-state pick for the second straight year, Northwest Conference Most Valuable Player and Bellingham Herald Whatcom County Player of the Year as a senior at Bellingham's Sehome High, finishing her prep career with 1,116 points and over 1,000 rebounds.

Briggs was a second-team AP Class 3A all-state choice as a senior, scoring 1,036 career points at Tacoma's Wilson High.

Parker was a first-team AP Class 2A all-state selection, Olympian all-Area Player of the Year, Chronicle all-Area and Evergreen Conference MVP at W.F. West High in Chehalis, setting school records for blocked shots in a game (15), season (157) and career (327). She also had 819 points and 920 rebounds during her prep career.

"They all have the ability, it's just a matter of how quickly they can make the transition from the high school game to the college game," Dolfo said.

The three WWU starters who completed their eligibility last season were center Britt Harris, a third-team Daktronics All-American and the Daktronics West Region Player of the Year; point guard Corinn Waltrip, a first-team Daktronics West Region and GNAC all-star, and guard Trishi Williams, a second-team GNAC all-star and GNAC Tournament MVP.

WWU opens its season at the West Region Crossover Classic in Fresno, Calif., meeting host Fresno Pacific on Nov. 8 and Humboldt State on Nov.9.

The Vikings, who were unbeaten in 16 home games last season and are working on a string of 20 overall, make their first appearance at Carver Gymnasium on Nov. 29 against Pacific Lutheran.