The battle for a berth in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges’ championship basketball tournament begins today with East Region play.
Eight schools in the East will vie for four tournament berths — in each the men’s and women’s tournaments — when it’s held March 1-4 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
For the Columbia Basin College men’s and women’s teams, it’s an added feather in their caps to play in the event close to home.
For Cheryl Holden’s women’s team, playing in the tournament is an annual event and has included a few titles. Her CBC teams have won the NWAACC title three times in the last 10 years (2005, 2008 and 2012).
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Holden’s freshman-laden team last season finished with a 17-13 mark and finished seventh in the tournament. This year’s team is heavy with experience and talent.
CBC men’s coach Rolando Garcia saw his team, decimated by injuries and academic problems, struggle to a 1-23 mark last season.
That could change for Garcia, whose team enters East Region play at Treasure Valley tonight with a 7-5 record already.
Here’s a look at both teams and the rest of the East Region:
The biggest thing for Garcia is having two sophomores who missed last season, Chiawana grads Justin Smith and Stephen Walter, return.
“Both of them had decided to sit last season for personal reasons,” said Garcia. “I believe that the maturity and confidence they have both gained by missing last year has shown through in their ability to lead our team as captains along with Kyler DeWitt.”
Walter was named the NWAACC player of the week for the week ending Dec. 30. He was named MVP of the Big Bend Holiday Tournament, averaging almost 15 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists as the Hawks went 3-0 to win the tournament.
Walter’s teammate, Andrew Reddout (Granger), joined him on the all-tournament team.
Other Mid-Columbians on the roster are 6-8 freshman forward Jordan En’Wezoh (Kamiakin), sophomore guard DeWitt (Chiawana), and freshman forward Carter Chase (Connell).
Garcia has five players averaging in double figures right now.
“On any given night, any player can give us 20 to 30 points in a game,” said Garcia. “They compete for 40 minutes and though we haven’t always come out on top this preseason, they did give it their all. Hopefully they have learned from their mistakes.”
The biggest proble for the Hawks may be on the inside.
“Clearly we’re undersized when it comes to post play,” said Garcia. “We lost our post recruits who had verbally committed to us and we had to revamp our strategy this year to play an uptempo style of play.”
Here’s a look at the rest of the East
Big Bend is 9-2 entering East Region play and is tied for fourth with Whatcom in the latest coaches poll. The Vikings are led by 6-6 sophomore guard Brendan Westendorf (Kentridge), who is a leading candidate for NWAACC player of the year and was the East Region MVP last season. Joe Timofeyev (Moses Lake Christian) and Bryce Perez (Moses Lake) are also on the team. ... Blue Mountain has Hanford freshman guard Jalen Watson on its roster. ... Spokane is loaded with Greater Spokane League talent, including 6-4 freshman guard/forward Dean Richey (Lewis & Clark). ... Treasure Valley head coach Ryan Zimmerman has a pipeline to Utah, where five players on his roster hail from. That includes standout sophomore forward Skyler Burgess (Riverton, Utah). ... Wenatchee Valley sophomore forward Sawyer Wahl (Nezperce, Idaho) will lead the Knights, who also have soph JT Reynolds (Mabton). ... Walla Walla Coach Jeff Reinland always seems to find some height, and this season’s team is no exception, with five players 6-6 or taller. Freshman center Tanner Cranor (Walla Walla High) is the tallest at 6-8. But it’ll be 6-7 sophomore Caleb Bravard (Colfax) leading this squad. Seth Alden (Walla Walla) is also on this team. ... Yakima Valley Coach Ray Funk has a sophomore-laden team, with seven of the nine players on the roster in their second season. Sophomore guard Juawnn Springfield (El Camino, Calif.) leads the team in scoring at 22.5 points.
NWAACC East standings
Big Bend 11-3
Yakima Valley 9-5
Treasure Valley 7-4
Columbia Basin 7-5
Walla Walla 7-7
Wenatchee Valley 6-7
Blue Mountain 4-8
Columbia Basin at Treasure Valley, 7 p.m.
Walla Walla at Blue Mountain, 8 p.m.
Wenatchee Valley at Spokane, 8 p.m.
Yakima Valley at Big Bend, 8 p.m.
CBC’s women are ranked second in the latest coaches poll, carrying a 10-3 record heading into East Region play.
Holden carries 16 on her roster, so she’s throwing not only talent out on the court, but depth too.
“We’re rotating about 10 players, sometimes 11,” said Holden, who calls this her deepest team in her time at CBC.
So obviously, experience and dewpth will be this team’s strengths.
“I think those freshmen, they battled all last year,” Holden said. “They’ve grown up a lot. Now add the freshmen who are quality players.”
The Hawks had three players last season who received NWAACC honors, and all three of them return.
Hannah DePew (Bainbridge Island) and Sierra Higheagle (Clarkston) were second-team all-region, while Alicia Jones (Skyline, Idaho) was an all-defensive selection.
Holden also has a strong core of players from this region: Alejandra Cuevas (Tri-Cities Prep), Lacie French (Prosser), Sydney Mercer (Prosser) and Courtney Nelson (Kamiakin).
French is shooting a sizzling 53 percent from the floor (30 for 56).
Sophomore Shannon Bland (Ellensburg) leads the team in assists (5.31) and steals (3.38). Higheagle leads the team in scoring at 11.4 points, while Nelson averages 10.0.
If there is one weakness right now, it’s rebounding consistency.
“We’ll play tough defense for 27 seconds, then give up an offensive rebound,” she said.
Still, Holden really likes this team.
“I think one thing is that we have a team that has a legitimate shot at winning the East Region,” Holden said. “Then whatever happens at the NWAACC tournament happens.”
Here’s a look at the rest of the East
Big Bend’s Riley Jemmett (West Jefferson, Idaho) leads the Vikings in scoring at 14.5 points. ... Blue Mountain (9-1) is ranked fourth in the latest NWAACC coaches poll. Mar’Shay Moore (Fort Vancouver) leads the Timberwolves in scoring at 17.4 points. ... Spokane’s Riley Holsinger (North Central) was last year’s East Region freshman of the year and a first-team all-star. She currently leads the entire NWAACC in scoring at 21.6 points a game. She’ll get some help from sophomore center Morgan Freeman (Hanford) and freshman guard Bianca Gonzales (Chiawana). ... Treasure Valley’s Rayona Driscoll (Vallivue, Idaho) leads the Chukars in scoring at 18.0 points. ... Wenatchee Valley’s Lindsay Loe (Columbia-Hunters) averages 8 rebounds a game. ... Walla Walla Coach Bobbi Hazeltine lost all five of her starters from last year’s team, so the Warriors have started out slow. But Hazeltine will have this squad ready for a post-season berth by season’s end. Karli McHone (Glenns Ferry, Idaho) has hit 24 of 60 3-point field goal attempts this season. ... Yakima Valley’s Chantel Dixon (Federal Way) returns as an All-Defensive player last season.
NWAACC East women’s standings
Blue Mountain 11-2
Columbia Basin 10-3
Big Bend 10-4
Wenatchee Valley 8-7
Walla Walla 6-5
Yakima Valley 4-9
Treasure Valley 2-10
Columbia Basin at Treasure Valley, 5 p.m.
Walla Walla at Blue Mountain, 6 p.m.
Wenatchee Valley at Spokane, 6 p.m.
Yakima Valley at Big Bend, 6 p.m.