BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Making its sixth straight appearance and 15th overall, the Western Washington University women’s basketball team will be the No.6 seed and face No.3 seed Simon Fraser University for the fourth time this season in an opening-round game at the West Regional of NCAA Division II National Tournament on Friday (12 noon) at Pomona, Calif.
The defending champion Vikings received an automatic berth by virtue of their second straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament title. They defeated Simon Fraser, 78-74, in Saturday’s final following an 81-71 semifinal victory over host Saint Martin’s on Friday.
In its two regular-season meetings with Simon Fraser, WWU lost 62-58 at Burnaby, B.C., on Dec. 7, and was victorious, 72-63, at Bellingham on March 1.
The Vikings also played the Clan four times last season, WWU winning three.
“To say that we kind of know each other is an understatement,” said WWU coach Carmen Dolfo (23rd year, 494-182). “We know them and know what to expect and we’ll see what adjustments we need to make. We’re just really excited to be in it and have this opportunity.”
WWU enters the regional with a 19-9 record. The Vikings have won 16 of their last 20 games following a 3-5 start. They placed second in the GNAC regular-season standings at 13-5 to gain a first-round bye at the conference tourney.
With just two starters back from last year’s 29-4 team that reached the national semifinals, WWU has gotten hot at the right time, winning eight of its last nine contests. The only loss during that stretch was by four points at Alaska Anchorage.
“It’s been pretty incredible and so much fun to see this team develop,” Dolfo said. “There were many times during the season where we could have backed off and stopped fighting, but this group didn’t. The (GNAC championship) game Saturday was indicative of our whole season. It started out bad and we just didn’t say die.”
The winner of Friday’s WWU vs. Simon Fraser contest faces the winner of the No.2 Montana State Billings (23-7) vs. No.7 Academy of Art (23-7) game played at 2:30p.m. Friday, in a semifinal Saturday at 5 p.m. The championship game is Monday at 7 p.m.
On the other side of the bracket Friday, No.1 Cal Poly Pomona (22-6) faces No.8 Alaska Anchorage (19-8) at 7:30 p.m., and No.4 Cal State Dominguez Hills (20-9) meets No.5 Chico State (18-9) at 5 p.m.. Those two winners play in a semifinal Saturday at 7:30 p.m..
The Vikings are led by shooting guard Katie Colard (Jr., McCleary/Elma), center Sarah Hill (Sr., Richmond, VA/Lloyd C. Bird) and point guard Jenni White (Jr., Spokane/East Valley).
Colard was a first-team GNAC all-star and Hill received second-team honors. White earned honorable mention and was named the GNAC Tournament MVP.
Colard leads WWU at 14.5 points per game, ranking 14th nationally and leading the conference in 3-point shooting at 40.0 percent (78-of-195). She has scored double figures in a team-best 21 games and has made a trey in her last 33 contests.
White is averaging 10.6 points and leads the team in both assists at 4.7 and steals at 2.2. She tied her career high with nine assists in the conference tourney semifinal win over Saint Martin’s.
Colard scored 44 points in the two GNAC tourney wins and White had 32, hitting 13-of-21 field goals (61.9 percent).
“I was just so excited for Jenni (White),” said Dolfo. “To see that determination come out of her and to realize that she can take over a game was really neat. And Katie (Colard) totally stepped up.”
Hill is averaging 10.1 points and a team-leading 8.9 rebounds and 51 blocked shots. She has had six double-doubles this season in points and rebounds and had near misses in five other games.
Completing the Vikings’ starting lineup are forward Sydney Donaldson (Jr., Edmonds/Edmonds-Woodway), who is averaging 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds, and forward Marcel Pounds (Jr., Bonney Lake), who has been playing stalwart defense and has hit 8-of-10 shots from the floor over the last five games.
WWU has gotten outstanding performances off the bench from two freshmen. Guard Taylor Peacocke (Kenmore/Inglemoor) is averaging 11.0 points, having her first career double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Simon Fraser. Forward Tia Briggs (Tacoma/Wilson) is averaging 9.6 points on team-best 52.9 percent (110-of-208) field-goal accuracy.
“This team ranks very high on my list for what it has accomplished,” Dolfo said. “Just to know how far we’ve come, having only nine players all year and how they’ve hung in there and never quit.”
Simon Fraser, 19-9, has split its last six games, two of the losses being to WWU. The Clan is led by junior forward Erin Chambers, one of the top 10 scorers in the nation at 22.6.
Simon Fraser ranks eighth nationally in 3-point percentage defense at 25.4.
WWU holds a 43-33 series advantage over the Clan, winning 10 of the last 12 meetings.
A win over Simon Fraser would give the Vikings a fifth straight 20-win season at regionals. It would be the 18th in Dolfo’s 23 seasons as head coach, and the 32nd in the 43-year history of the program.