WALLA WALLA - The last time Bobbi Hazeltine was in this position, she really wasn't.
Which is to say, when Hazeltine's 2001 Walla Walla Community College women's basketball team captured the NWAACC Championships - the first in the program's history, by the way - she welcomed back seven of 15 players, including starting point guard Alyssa Latham, and the 2002 squad went on to finish third in the NWAACC's season-ending tournament.
When the Warriors tip off the 2010-11 season Friday afternoon at 2 against Bellevue in the Yakima CC Invitational, they will be taking the floor for the first time since their thrilling 75-72 victory over Yakima in the NWAACC title game in Kennewick last March. But with just two reserves from last year's team on this year's roster, Hazeltine admits that she's starting over in the truest sense.
"Our lack of experience is just huge, and you can't replace it," Hazeltine said. "We have 16 kids on our roster, and two of them are going to redshirt. Of the other 14, only two have played for us. And we have no returning point guards or posts.
"It's like learning to read and write. It's a beginner-to-beginner type of thing. We have some good players, but we are trying to teach a college system to 14 kids from 14 different high schools.
"But it keeps you young," she said. "Or maybe it ages you. I think it's harder on me than it is on the kids."
Most difficult of all will be the transition from a team that logged a school-record 28-1 season mark and sent four of its five starters into the four-year college playing ranks.
Kati Isham, a two-time NWAACC Eastern Division Most Valuable Player and last year's tournament MVP, is the starting shooting guard on this year's Boise State team. And Nancy Johnson, another all-division and all-tourney selection last year, is the first post player off the bench at Carroll College and is coming off a recent game in which she scored 16 points.
Forward Kayla Hutcheson is playing at Oklahoma Panhandle State University and guard Layne Tucker is starting at Warner Pacific. WWCC's fifth starter from a year ago, Shelby Isham, is in nursing school at College of Southern Idaho and is no longer player basketball.
Two other key members of last year's squad were backup center Jaimie Berghammer, now attending the University of Idaho, and backup forward Morgon VanderEsch, who is enrolled at Boise State.
"I have never lost such a group," Hazeltine said. "We've never had such a season. Everything about last season was record-setting and positive and good.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime season with once-in-a-lifetime kids who were good students, good people and just happened to be good basketball players. I don't see it ever happening again."
Not that she won't try and make it happen again. Beginning Friday night.
Hazeltine's two veteran players are a pair 5-foot-8 shooting guards, Shiann Dreadfulwater and Morgan Wolff.
Dreadfulwater, who is from Grangeville, averaged 3.2 points a game in limited minutes backing up Kati Isham and Tucker. Wolff, a Kendrick, Idaho, product, filled very much the same role and averaged 4.4 points per game.
"Obviously, playing behind Kati and Layne, they didn't play a lot of minutes," Hazeltine said. "This year they will be our co-captains and more than anything else, we will look to them for leadership."
Hazeltine regards Dreadfulwater as her quickest and most skilled player while Wolff is Dreadfulwater's equal as an outside shooter.
"Shiann will be our go-to player," Hazeltine said of Dreadfulwater. "Out of all the players we have, she is good enough to play on after here, and hopefully she will."
Every other player on this year's Warriors roster is a true freshman.
The list includes no fewer than four six-footers, three legitimate point guards and 5-10 Caitlin Duncan out of DeSales, whom Hazeltine calls "our biggest surprise" so far this season.
The big girls are Baylie Smith (6-2) out of Jerome, Idaho; Tai Jensen (6-0) from Troy, Idaho; Lundyn Jared (6-0) of Timberline High in Pierce, Idaho; and Stevie Humphries (6-0), a product of Mountain View High in Boise.
"We haven't had someone as tall as Baylie around here in a long time," said Hazeltine, who also said she couldn't recall the last time, if ever, she had four six-footers on her roster.
"They all lack experience, and they could all get more aggressive," Hazeltine said. "We have to get them out of the mode of being soft. They need to try and knock some people over. Our posts are just nice."
The trio of point guards are Janae Klarich (5-5) of Granger, Wash., Brittany Leasy (5-5) of Middleton, Idaho, and Sienna Edmunson (5-9) of Plymouth, Idaho. Klarich and Edmunson appear to be in battle for the starting job and Leasy, a walkon who is at WWCC because of her rodeo ability, will see minutes in a backup role.
"They are totally different-style players, and neither has the upper hand," Hazeltine said of Klarich and Edmunson. "Janae is a great passer, Sienna likes to go, go, go and penetrate. They will compliment each other."
Duncan is listed as a guard-forward and will be on the floor when the Warriors tip off their season Friday.
"She's hands down the most fundamental kid on our team," Hazeltine said of Duncan. "And I am all about fundamentals, so she will play because she is so fundamentally sound.
"She does so many things right that it is hard to have her on the bench," the coach added. "She can play the three or the four, but we will probably have her at the four because our sophomore experience beats her out at the three."
Rounding out the list of newcomers are shooting guards Mary Blevins (5-9) of Lewis & Clark High in Spokane and Leslie Stillar (5-6) from Lakeside High in Nine Mile Falls, Wash.; guard-forward Alex Pfefferle (5-9) of Kimberly, Idaho; and guard Emily Hammond (5-7) of Middleton, Idaho.
The two freshmen who are expected to redshirt this season are 5-10 forward Hailey Felgenhauer of Fruitland, Idaho, and 5-7 guard Sara Bowers-Ott of Imbler, Ore.
Overall, Hazeltine believes she has assembled a roster of players that possesses shooting ability at the guard positions and potential in the paint.
"We're going to shoot it OK," Hazeltine said. "We have a lot of guards on this team, and most of these guys have never met a shot they didn't like. We won't have a problem with the shot clock this year.
"And down the road, I think we have a chance to be pretty decent inside. But it will come with experience."
Warrior women's schedule
Nov. 19-21 - at Yakima Invitational, TBA.
Dec. 3-4 - Warrior Classic: Friday, Dec. 3, Blue Mountain vs. Linn Benton, 2 p.m., and WWCC vs. Seattle, 6 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 4: Blue Mountain vs. Seattle, 2 p.m., and WWCC vs. Linn Benton, 6 p.m.
Dec. 10 - Whatcom, 6 p.m.
Dec. 11 - Portland, 6 p.m.
Dec. 17-19 - at NWAACC Crossover, Portland CC, TBA.
Dec. 31 - At North Idaho, 2 p.m.
Jan. 8 - at Columbia Basin, 4 p.m.
Jan. 12 - Blue Mountain, 6 p.m.
Jan. 15 - at Treasure Valley, 5 p.m.
Jan. 19 - Yakima, 6 p.m.
Jan. 22 - at Wenatchee, 4 p.m.
Jan. 26 - Spokane, 6 p.m.
Jan. 29 - at Big Bend, 2 p.m.
Feb. 2 - Columbia Basin, 6 p.m.
Feb. 5 - Treasure Valley, 4 p.m.
Feb. 9 - at Yakima, 6 p.m.
Feb. 12 - Wenathee, 4 p.m.
Feb. 16 - at Spokane, 6 p.m.
Feb. 19 - Big Bend, 4 p.m.
Feb. 23 - at Blue Mountain, 6 p.m.
March 5-8 - NWAACC Championships, Kennewick, TBA.