COLLEGE PLACE - The Walla Walla University women's basketball team faces a rocky road this winter. The Wolves welcome first-year coach Mike Patterson as well as a multitude of freshmen and junior college transfers to an entirely revamped program looking to improve on last year's 3-20 campaign.
Not only are the Wolves breaking in new players in a new program, WWU is also battling injuries and administrative delays with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
The Wolves were scheduled to play Eastern Oregon to open their season on Monday. However, that game was moved to Nov. 10 because so many players were still waiting to be declared eligible. The NAIA is behind in examining transfers' transcripts to declare eligibility.
Scheduling won't be doing the Wolves any favors; instead of facing the Mountaineers at home to open the season, WWU opens 2011 with a three-game road trip tonight when they travel to the other corner of the state, Bellingham, to take on Northwest Indian College. WWU split a series with NWI last season, a 74-53 victory and a 64-55 loss.
After taking on NWI, WWU travels to Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, British Columbia, on Saturday, then faces off against Evergreen State in Olympia Sunday.
The trip covers roughly 900 miles in four days.
"We're looking for a rainbow right now," Patterson said. "We've been pulled through a lot of mud and puddles and so we're looking for the bright light of the tunnel. But, regardless, we want to be known as the team that, when the opponent steps on the court with us, we are going to go our hardest every game."
At this point, however, several starters' eligibility are still up in the air.
Junior point guard Dani Carlman, a 5-foot-3 transfer from Highline Community College, will start at point guard pending NAIA eligibility verification.
"She's (Carlman) the quarterback of the team," Patterson said. "She reads the defenses and where to go with the ball, she has just an incredible knowledge of the game.
"She has incredible quickness, she can drive and she's a great shooter," Patterson said. "Her strengths are her leadership on and off the court and her basketball knowledge."
Should Carlman not be cleared to play, freshman Abbey Manzano (5-4) will start at point.
Starting at the No. 2 position is Johanna Uribe, a 5-6 junior who is another JC transfer from Imperial Community College and, like Carlman, is also waiting for clearance from the NAIA.
She should be the Wolve's scrapper, as well as providing a presence from the perimeter.
"She's (Uribe) got great touch, has a nice shot and she understands what it takes to play at the college level," Patterson said. "She is a hard worker and she's not afraid to mix it up, to go after loose balls and rebounds, to do all the little things it takes to be successful."
Junior Brianna Moorer, a JC transfer from Taft College in California, rounds out the Wolves' compliment of starting guards. Look for her to rack up points from the outside this season.
"Moorer is an incredible shooter," Patterson said. "She can come off a screen and shoot extremely well, just catch and shoot. She has college experience and she knows he role and works extremely well."
Katelynn Taggart, a 5-9 sophomore, will start the season as a center for WWU, although she will most likely share time with several other players. Taggart's strength is her versatility. Not only is she a solid rebounder and scorer from down low, she can also jump out and hit 15-footers, allowing Patterson to mix up looks for opposing defenses.
Hailing from Whatcom Community College, Karly Joseph (5-11) will also be banging bodies in the post.
"She (Joseph) plays a lot better than her actual size," Patterson said. "She's got great footwork for a post player.
"She has great touch from about 15-feet and she works hard from both ends." he said. "She's someone who I can see possibly averaging a double-double in the years to come."
Freshman Hannah King will not be making the weekend road trip due to a heavy course load this semester, but Patterson said the 5-11 forward from Portland Adventist Academy will be a regular feature down low for the Wolves.
"She's just an unbelievable freshman player," Patterson said. "She leads by example, she plays hard under the net - she does what ever it takes to help the team."
King's teammate from Portland Adventist, freshman Alyssa Bailey, would likely start at guard for the wolves, however she too is out. Bailey is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament tear she suffered her senior season of high school.
Patterson has coached at Wa-Hi and for an AAU team for the past five years. Patterson also teaches health and physical education at Sager Middle School.
For those making the trip, tip-off in Bellingham against Northwest Indian is at 8 p.m.