2009-10 Preview: Vikings hope unique brand of experience leads to more success
Oct. 16, 2009
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The usual path for a college basketball player is to come in and play four straight years. A few start out with a redshirt year, then play. But for four seniors on the 2009-10 Western Washington University women's basketball team, the road to their final season has been a different one.
The Vikings return six letter winners from last year's team that went 19-9 overall and tied for third place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, reaching the opening round of the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
Four of the five seniors on the team - center Krystal Robinson (Kent/Kentwood), forwards Jessica Summers (Blaine) and Willow Cabe (McCleary/Elma) and guard Ashley Fenimore (Lynnwood/Meadowdale) - took at least a year off in the middle of their careers for a variety of reasons.
It provides Western coach Carmen Dolfo with a quartet that not only has experience, but a unique perspective on the importance of their collegiate careers.
"They're a very seasoned group," said Dolfo, whose career record of 375-152 entering her 19th season puts her in the top 20 among active NCAA II coaches in victories and winning percentage (.712). "They all have reasons they came back, all of them are very motivated. Their paths have not been the normal paths, and I think that gives them a sense of determination to finish their careers strong."
The top three scorers, all returning starters, are back from last season. The trio is led by second-team all-GNAC guard Amanda Dunbar (Marysville/Marysville-Pilchuck), a junior who has been Western's scoring leader the last two years, averaging 13.1 points in 2008-09 to rank sixth in the GNAC. She also paced Western in assists at 3.2 per game, being seventh in the conference.
"Amanda is a great scorer who can shoot outside and also drive," Dolfo said. "But what a lot of people don't realize is that she's also a very good passer."
Summers, who was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA this summer, was GNAC co-Newcomer of the Year last season and earned second-team all-conference honors, averaging 12.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a contest. The latter two marks were team highs and ranked sixth and fifth, respectively, in the GNAC.
"Jessica brings a deep motivation to win," said Dolfo. "She's got a really quick first step, and she can score both inside and outside.
The third starter back is Cabe, who averaged 9.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots. She can play nearly any position, with enough height to play inside, but the ball-handling skills to play outside.
"Willow has pure athletic ability," Dolfo said. "Being a mobile 6-foot-1 player at the three spot creates a lot of matchup problems. We expect big things from her."
That trio has an unsung strength at the free throw line. All three were between 78 and 80 percent on free throws last year, all being among the top nine among GNAC leaders in free throw percentage.
Cabe and Summers both sat out the 2007-08 season while not attending school. Two of the other seniors did not play last year.
Fenimore redshirted last season by GNAC regulations after transferring from Central Washington. She was a three-year starter for the Wildcats, averaging 7.5 points and 3.8 assists as a junior in 2007-08.
Robinson was an assistant coach last season, but successfully petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility after having two seasons in her career cut short by injury. She last played a full season in 2006-07, contributing 10.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots. She ranks second in Western history in career blocks with 190.
Besides the three starters back, three other letter winners return.
Junior guard Megan Pinske (New Westminster, BC/Port Moody) was a part-time starter last year, averaging 4.5 points and 2.3 rebounds despite still recovering from knee surgery. Last summer, she was a late call-up to the Canadian National Team that competed in the FIBA Americas Championship, helping Canada earn a 2010 World Championship berth.
Junior center Lauren Hefflin (Ridgefield) provides depth in the post. Hefflin, who has started 15 games over her career, averaged 2.0 points and 3.0 rebounds last season.
Expected to redshirt this season is senior forward Gabby Wade (Lacey/River Ridge), who contributed 6.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 2008-09, twice getting six steals in a game. She was a part-time starter as a sophomore in 2007-08.
Completing the roster are four true freshmen. The most likely to have an immediate impact is guard Corinn Waltrip (Tigard, OR), a Class 6A Oregon all-state pick as a high school senior, when she averaged 20.9 points, 3.5 assists and 3.4 steals.
The other three freshmen are post players. Center Britt Harris (Marysville-Pilchuck) averaged 15.6 points and 13.1 rebounds as a high school senior while earning all-conference honors at Marysville-Pilchuck, forward Erika Ramstead (Everson/Nooksack Valley) was a first-team Class 1A all-state pick at Nooksack Valley, where she averaged 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds, and center Kendall Williams (Lake Tapps/White River) averaged 14.4 points and 10.5 rebounds and was named MVP of the South Puget Sound League.
"We have a group that needs to come together," said Dolfo. "We have a lot of different stories, players who have been different places - they need to trust each other, play together, develop some sense of togetherness. The talent is there."
Western has made 10 NCAA II national tournament appearances in 11 years as a NCAA member.
Dolfo said the schedule, with non-conference matchups that include the likes of Washburn and UC San Diego, and the GNAC as deep as it has ever been, is probably the toughest Western has ever faced.
"It's not an easy road," she said. "It will be good for us, though. We'll be challenged right from the beginning."
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