Girls basketball in the Mid-Columbia Conference has been dominated by youth this season, but the Richland Bombers have been the exception.
Only three of the conference’s top 10 scorers are seniors, but two of them hale from Richland: guard Kamri von Oelhoffen and guard/forward Maysun Wellsandt, who are averaging 13.8 and 11.6 points per game, respectively.
Now in the final week of the season, and with the Bombers (9-8, 8-2) squarely lodged in the middle of the race for a conference championship and the MCC’s top 4A seeding, Richland coach Cindy McCoy is expecting a lot from her upperclassmen.
“In your seniors, you always hope they step up and lead,” McCoy said, “and we’ll be expecting these two, especially now, to really step into some leadership roles and help to get this team fired up for the big finale.”
Her team has delivered in the past couple weeks.
Von Oelhoffen missed time at the beginning of the season because of injury, and the Bombers got off to a 1-4 start as a result. But they’ve won six of their last seven games and have improved to 8-2 in conference play to draw even with Chiawana in the 4A standings with four games to play.
The improved play has shown up on the scoreboard for Richland. The Bombers have scored at least 64 points in each of their past five games, a feat they only accomplished twice in their first 12 contests. A seasonlong improvement in rebounding — and specifically boxing out — has allowed the Bombers to pick up the pace offensively.
“Box outs: We talk about it every day in practice, it’s always on our white board before games,” Wellsandt said. “Box outs are like the most important thing in basketball.”
The increased tempo has allowed the Bombers to spread out the scoring. Junior Hailey Stevens (7.7 points per game) and sophomores Nicole Gall (6.8) and Gracie Pierce (6.4) are all in the top 25 of the conference’s scorers.
Wellsandt said she hopes to end her senior campaign with a trip to the state tournament, which Richland hasn’t reached since 2005. Von Oelhoffen’s sights were set more on the immediate future.
“I’m hoping to beat Kamiakin and Chiawana,” von Oelhoffen said. “Those are our biggest rivals, so I’m hoping to beat both of them.”
The Bombers visit both teams this week, playing at No. 19 Chiawana on Wednesday (6 p.m. tipoff) and at No. 5 Kamiakin on Friday.
Richland fell to Chiawana 59-55 on Dec. 16 — the last of those four losses at the beginning of the season — and to Kamiakin 72-64 on Jan. 14. The Bombers have averaged 74 points in their three games since losing to Kamiakin, and they hope that defeat can be marked as the season’s turning point.
“I think losing to them, it made us step it up in practice,” von Oelhoffen said. “It was a wake-up call.”
Richland swept Kamiakin last season but lost to Chiawana all four times the teams met.
Even with the Bombers trying to even up the season series against their two greatest conference foes, McCoy is stressing to her team the importance of every game at this point in the season. That’s probably a good idea, because Richland has one of the busiest final-week slates of any team in the MCC, as it also hosts Walla Walla on Tuesday and Hanford on Saturday.
“You always want to come up against the good teams, especially with playoffs coming up to see kind of where you’re at,” McCoy said. “But every single game that we’re playing ... every single one of those counts. So what our concern is, is just taking it one game at a time.
“And any given team in this league, depending on the night, they all have their strengths and we can’t overlook anyone.”
SCAC EAST: RIVER VIEW-BURBANK ROUND 2
It’s make or break time for the SCAC East’s top teams.
River View will host Columbia-Burbank at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a game that will could crown a conference champion.
The Coyotes (17-0, 11-0, No. 8 in 1A RPI) beat the Panthers at home 62-40 on Jan. 25. If they’re able to repeat that performance, they will clinch the conference championship.
If No. 21 River View (15-2, 11-1) can avenge its only conference loss of the season, it also needs to beat Connell on Friday and have Burbank lose to either College Place on Thursday or Wahluke on Saturday to win the championship outright. Falling one game short of that — a very likely scenario — would create a tie.
OTHER PLAYOFF SCENARIOS
MCC 4A: If Chiawana completes a season sweep against Richland on Wednesday, it would just need to beat two of the bottom teams in the conference — Hanford and Kennewick — this weekend to guarantee the top seed. The Riverhawks play Southridge on Tuesday.
If Richland beats Chiawana, and both teams win (or both lose) their Tuesday games (Richland is at home against Walla Walla), they will have split the season series and have the same conference record going into the weekend’s games.
Walla Walla (6-10, 5-6) is currently in third, but could mathematically still tie Richland for second place if it wins out (at home against Pasco on Friday and Southridge on Saturday) and the Bombers lose their last four games. Chiawana swept the Blue Devils in their season series.
Pasco (5-12, 3-8) needs to beat Walla Walla to have a shot at moving up to third. The Bulldogs host Kennewick on Tuesday and Kamiakin on Friday.
MCC 3A: Kamiakin has clinched the No. 1 seed and needs to win two out of three games in the bi-district playoffs to advance to the glue-crossover against the SeaKing District 2 No. 6 or No. 7 team.
Southridge (8-8, 5-6) is sitting in second entering the final week. It can clinch the seed, and a first-round bye in the playoffs, with a win over Kennewick (5-11, 3-8) on Friday to complete the season sweep.
In order to take the 2 seed outright, Kennewick would need to sweep Pasco, Southridge and Chiawana, and have Southridge lose at Chiawana on Tuesday and at Walla Walla on Saturday. Falling one game short of that (with a win over Southridge) would create a tie; two games shy would keep Southridge alone in second.
CWAC: Prosser is all but guaranteed the No. 2 seed in the six-team district tournament. Because of a season sweep, East Valley (12-6, 11-5) can’t catch the Mustangs, and they would need league-leading Wapato to lose its last two conference games to have a chance at a league title.
SCAC EAST: Connell (11-6, 9-3) will be locked into the third seed if River View beats Burbank on Tuesday, but it has a shot to tie for second if Burbank wins. The Eagles will have to beat Kiona-Benton on Tuesday and top River View on Friday to make that happen.
Kiona-Benton (8-10, 6-6) occupies the fourth and final SCAC East playoff berth entering the week. Wahluke and Ki-Be split their season series, and the Warriors (5-11, 4-7) need to pick up 1 1/2 games (one Ki-Be loss and three Wahluke wins; or two Ki-Be losses and two Wahluke wins) this week to force a tie for that fourth spot. Wahluke plays Warden on Tuesday, at Warden on Thursday and at Burbank on Friday. Ki-Be plays at Connell on Tuesday and at Royal on Friday.
EWAC: Mabton (11-5, 8-2) could still mathematically pass Dayton (16-1, 11-0) for the league championship, but the Vikings would need to win their last four against Liberty Christian, DeSales, Dayton and Kittitas, and have Dayton lose out for that to happen. They need one win to guarantee a spot in the playoffs (with four EWAC and four Central Washington teams), and two wins would guarantee them the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
Liberty Christian (7-7, 5-5) enters the week tied with White Swan for the conference’s fourth and final playoff spot. LC beat White Swan at home on Dec. 16, and if it beats the Cougars again on Feb. 6 in the regular season finale, and wins a home game against Tri-Cities Prep (3-14, 3-8) on Saturday, it would force White Swan to beat Kittitas on Tuesday, Walla Walla Valley Academy on Thursday and DeSales on Saturday to have a chance of knocking LC out of the playoffs. If LC can pick up those two aforementioned wins, and pull off an upset at home against Mabton on Tuesday or at Dayton on Friday, it would automatically clinch a playoff berth.
Sunnyside suffered its first loss of the season in heart-breaking fashion to Moses Lake on Friday and lost its top spot in the 4A RPI rankings as a result, falling to No. 2 behind 16-2 Bothell. The Grizzlies (16-1, 9-1) can still win the Big Nine championship with home wins over Wenatchee on Friday and Eastmont on Feb. 10.