Basketball: NWAACC championships near 13th run in Tri-Cities

February 25, 2014 

Marco Azurdia is on high alert.

The executive director of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges won’t relax until the men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments – which begin Saturday in the Toyota Center – are completed by Tuesday night.

“Wednesday, I get home (in Vancouver, Wash.) and just pass out,” said Azurdia. “I want it to be so good I can’t stop.”

To that end, Azurdia held one final meeting with the tournament committee Monday at the Pasco Red Lion, where the group made sure it had enough volunteers, and had all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

The two tournaments, run simultaneously, require roughly 100 volunteers to make them run successfully.

Azurdia says they have that number.

“And some of these volunteers have been here since the first year,” he said.

Another thing he has done since taking over the top spot in the NWAACC is ask competing teams to help toward a chosen charity.

This year’s charity is My Friends Place in Kennewick, a housing and homeless shelter.

Azurdia has asked each player to bring two pieces of clothing to the tournament banquet, set for Friday night.

This is the 13th year the tournament has been held in the Tri-Cities, and with the contract expiring after 2015, there will be a 14th year.

And it’s been good for the community.

Hector Cruz of the Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau estimates that this tournament brings $594,000 into the community in business.

That excites Azurdia.

“As an organization, we’ve gotten better,” Azurdia said. “As for the basketball, I think the talent level is very good. I think there’s a misperception out there about community college basketball. Everyone matures at a different time. Every kid, when they’re a sophomore or junior in high school, thinks they’re going to play Division I level. That’s just not true.

“But there are a lot of kids who can play at the community college level, then get the education paid for at the four-year level after that,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

All-Stars announced: The NWAACC announced the all-star teams on Tuesday, as voted by the coaches.

Big Bend’s Brendan Westendorf was named the East Region men’s MVP. The five first-teamers are Treasure Valley’s John Fletcher and DeSean Mattox; Spokane’s Kwinn Hanson; Columbia Basin’s Steven Walter; and Yakima Valley’s Joel YellowOwl. Treasure Valley’s Ryan Zimmerman was named East coach of the year. CBC’s Andrew Reddout was named to the All-Defensive team.

The CBC women dominated the East all-star lineup. Spokane’s Riley Holsinger was named MVP, but three Hawks — Shannon Bland, Sydney Mercer and Courtney Nelson —were first teamers. So was Blue Mountain’s Mar’Shay Moore and Walla Walla’s Jessica Siler. CBC coach Cheryl Holden was named East coach of the year. Other CBC women honors: Sierra Higheagle is a second-team all-star; Nelson is the freshman of the year; Bland is the defensive player of the year; and Alicia Jones is on the all-defensive team. Former Hanford High standout Morgan Freeman, playing at Spokane, was named to the second team al-star unit.

Notes: The Tri-Cities Fever has its home game in the Toyota Center on Friday night. But because the ice is already covered up, the crew setting up the two basketball courts is expecting two to three hours less in setup time. Everything needs to be ready for the first contests, and those begin at 8 a.m. Saturday. … The Columbia Basin College volleyball team will be holding 50-50 raffles during the four days to help raise money for its program. … The men’s and women’s championship games on Tuesday will be held on the women’s court on the west end of the arena, just like the previous few years. The closeness of the court to the stands at the end provides for a better atmosphere, said Azurdia.

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