Columbia Basin College women’s basketball coach Cheryl Holden has never liked to compare her teams from one season to the next.
But even she can’t keep a straight face when she’s asked if this year’s version of the Hawks could be her best.
This season’s team is 23-4, had a 17-game winning streak and has been ranked atop the NWAACC coaches poll for most of the season.
She has had very little to criticize after her team plays, and she spends less time after a game talking to her team in the locker room.
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With that in mind, CBC will be the women’s tournament favorite when it opens today at 8 p.m. against Peninsula at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
“I told the team this week that everybody rooted for David but nobody rooted for Goliath,” said Holden. “Goliath worked hard too.”
Holden felt she was going to have a good squad when last season’s team — almost all freshmen — placed seventh at last year’s NWAACC tournament.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the number of sophomores coming back,” said Holden. “They’ve all provided leadership. So a lot of work was done in the last year.”
Then she added some key newcomers to the puzzle.
Shannon Bland transferred from Central Washington University. Kamiakin grad Courtney Nelson decided not to go to Northwest Nazarene University to play.
Prosser’s Sydney Mercer and Lacie French, and Granger’s Lyndsay Oswalt decided to come to CBC.
Suddenly, this team was loaded.
And in order to get everyone into a game, players had to accept fewer minutes on the court.
Please check your egos at the locker room.
Nelson, the East Region’s freshman of the year and a first-team all-star, leads the Hawks in minutes played at 24 per game. The top players’ minutes of the next three ranked teams are as follows: Clark 28, Umpqua 31, Walla Walla 30.
Somehow, the formula has worked for CBC.
“I’ve been on club teams before, where everyone is real good,” said Mercer. “But many of the players were selfish. On this team everyone has a role. Whether I play 20 minutes or less isn’t an issue.
“I don’t know how much I’m going to play. It depends on who we play, how we work together. If the group of five on the court are out there working together and they’re doing well, if I’m on the bench I’ll be standing up and cheering for them.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “A win is a win. It could be a problem, but we just aren’t that way.”
Holden appreciates the attitude.
“That was tough. Sometimes you have two or three kids who don’t want to (accept lower minutes),” said Holden. “There were a lot of kids who had to do that this season. I couldn’t be prouder of them. It’s not easy for 18- and 19-year-old girls.”
But the formula has an added bonus for the Hawks: Playing fewer minutes has helped the team stay relatively healthy this season and could be a bonus in a tournament where you have to find a way to win on four consecutive days.
And throw in this nugget: Coach Bobbi Hazeltine and the Walla Walla women may have done the Hawks a favor by handing CBC its only East Region loss last Saturday, beating the Hawks 69-57.
Instead of entering the tournament riding an 18-game win streak, the Hawks enter with a loss and a new appreciation for what they’re doing.
“I think the repetitions of winning kind of made us relax,” said Nelson. “We had a really good week of practice.”
“Nobody likes to lose,” she said. “I wish we could have ended the (East Region) season undefeated. But we learned a lot from that loss. As a team we can not be complacent.”
Which is why Holden loves this team. The players learn, and they do a lot of it on their own.
“When you’re in (the loss) at the moment, it’s a disaster,” said Holden. “Twenty-four hours later you have perspective. We’ll learn from that.”
Here are today’s first-round women’s pairings:
Game 1, Whatcom (16-8) vs. Blue Mountain (19-8), 8 a.m.
Game 2, Clark (23-3) vs. Clackamas (19-6), 10 a.m.
Game 3, Walla Walla (18-7) vs. Skagit Valley (19-8), noon
Game 4, Umpqua (21-6) vs. Centralia (14-12), 2 p.m.
Game 5, Lane (22-6) vs. Highline (19-9), 4 p.m.
Game 6, Bellevue (20-7) vs. Spokane (15-12), 6 p.m.
Game 7, Columbia Basin (23-4) vs. Peninsula (11-13), 8 p.m.
Game 8, Lower Columbia (21-6) vs. Chemeketa (17-10), 10 p.m.
Here are today’s first round men’s pairings:
Game 1, Pierce (20-6) vs. Southwestern Oregon (21-7), 8 a.m.
Game 2, Treasure Valley (18-8) vs. Edmonds (17-10), 10 a.m.
Game 3, Clackamas (16-11) vs. Highline (20-7), noon
Game 4, Whatcom (18-6) vs. Spokane (17-11), 2 p.m.
Game 5, Skagit Valley (18-9) vs. Columbia Basin (16-10), 4 p.m.
Game 6, Clark (24-1) vs. Chemeketa (14-13), 6 p.m.
Game 7, Portland (19-9) vs. Lower Columbia (11-14), 8 p.m.
Game 8, Big Bend (21-7) vs. Bellevue (17-10), 10 p.m.