Breaking down the NWAACC women's tournament

February 27, 2014 

Cheryl Holden’s Columbia Basin College women’s basketball team has come into the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges championship tournament as the favorite before.

But this year’s 23-4 squad just might be her best.

It’s reflected in the East Region all-star announcement earlier this week.

Three players — Shannon Bland (Ellensburg) , Sydney Mercer (Prosser) and Courtney Nelson (Kamiakin) — were named first-team all-stars by the region’s coaches.

Teammate Sierra Higheagle (Clarkston) is a second-team selection.

Bland was named defensive player of the year, while teammate Alicia Jones (Skyline, Idaho Falls) was on the all-defensive team.

Nelson (13.3 points) was also named the East’s freshman of the year, and there could be a legitimate argument that she should have been named the East Region MVP for her play.

Oh yes, Holden was named the region’s top coach.

Now take into account that most of the above players didn’t get normal minutes this season, because Holden had a deep roster.

It’s no surprise the hometown Hawks will enter this weekend’s tournament as the favorite.

But it won’t be easy to win this event. There are plenty of challengers:

Other tourney favorites

Clark (23-3). High school fans may remember Clark’s head coach, Al Aldridge, who was the longtime coach at Prairie High until a few years ago and was the West coach of the year this season. Brooke Bowen (Skyview) is the West MVP and leads the Penguins with 17.5 points a game. Nicolette Bond (Battle Ground) and Haley Grossman (Battle Ground) were first-team South all-stars, and Shantell Jackson (Auburn Riverside) and Taylor Howlett (Lewis & Clark) also provide support.

Lane (22-6). The defending NWAACC champion, the Titans have a local connection in freshman Heidi Walchli (Hermiston). This is the highest scoring team in the NWAACC at 85.5 points. Shelby Snook (Roseburg) is the star here, averaging 19.4 points a game and is a first-team South all-star. Tori Mahaffie (Willamette) and Joleen Chanco (Roseville, Calif.) are other standouts.

Umpqua (21-6). Two big scorers here: South Region MVP Ashli Payne (Olympic; 10.4 rebounds) at 18.5 points, and first-team all-star Kyndal Charleston (Los Angeles) at 17.5. South coach of the year Dave Stricklin can also look to Asia Smith (Los Angeles; 9.5 rebounds) for support.

Walla Walla (18-7). Coach Bobbi Hazeltine seems to get her Warriors to the tournament every year. Umatilla sophomore Jessica Siler, a first-team East all-star, has been a strong presence in the paint (7.4 rebounds). Bailey Nygaard (Kamiah, Idaho; 11.2 points) is also a team leader. Amy DeLong (Vale, Ore.) leads the team in scoring at 11.5.

Contenders

Bellevue (20-7). Team is coached by Jeremy Eggers, the North coach of the year who also coaches Bellevue men’s team. Former Davis High star Mel Stubblefield is an assistant, and Ellensburg freshman Kelcie Russell is on the roster. Alexis Berrysmith (Kentwood) and Airashay Rogers (Hazen; 11.6 points) are first-team North all-stars, while Jori Hall (Sehome) is the top defensive player.

Chemeketa (17-10). Irma Savoy (West Salem, Ore.; 17.4 points; 9.3 rebounds; 3.1 steals) is a first-team South all-star, while McKenzi Benedict (Lebanon, Ore.) and Taylor Munson (Molalla, Ore.) provide support.

Clackamas (19-6). Laci Effenberger (Ketchikan, Alaska) is the star here at 17.3 points and 6.3 assists. Jasmine Gibbs-Brown (Century, Hillsboro, Ore.) and Tori Wilkinson (Willamette, Ore.) provide support.

Lower Columbia (21-6). Kaylea Knox (Rainier, Ore.) is the team’s leading scorer at 12.2 a game. Arnesha Smith (Tyee), though, is a first-team West all-star. Donniesha Webber (Cleveland) provides defensive support.

Whatcom (16-8). Sophomore Nathalie Gruber hails from Ellensburg, while freshman Nikki Gilbert (5.3 assists) is from Eastmont. Kortney Grattic (Lynden) averages 20.0 points and was the North’s MVP. Kayla Tiemersma (Lynden Christian) is a first-team North all-star, while Alisha Friberg (Lynden Christian) is the team’s best defensive player.

Darkhorses

Blue Mountain (19-8). Mar’Shay Moore (Fort Vancouver; 18.3 points) is the Timberwolves’ best player, making the first-team East all-star unit.

Centralia (14-12). Karina Gee (Auburn Riverside; 10.7 points) and Leah Davis (Gig Harbor) helped get Centralia to the tournament.

Highline (19-9). Victoria Elleby (Chief Sealth; 13.8 points) is the team’s top player, making first-team West all-star. Lanae Adams (Prairie) provides support.

Peninsula (11-13). Only team in the field with a losing record. Gabi Fenumiai (Juneau-Douglas, Alaska) is the team’s best player with 15.3 points and 11.9 rebounds, making first-team all-North. Madison Pilster (Blackfoot, Idaho) provides support.

Skagit Valley (19-8). First-team North all-star Sydney Brown (Burlington-Edison) is the Cardinals’ top scorer at 13.1 a game. But Arie Boyd (Anacortes) and Samantha Kelleigh (Stanwood) can play too.

Spokane (15-12). Riley Holsinger (North Central; 3.1 steals) was named the East’s MVP and led the entire NWAACC in scoring at 22.4 points a game. Hanford High grad Morgan Freeman is strong inside and can play defense. Bianca Gonzales (Chiawana) is also on the team.

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