Warrior weapons loaded as NWAACC tourney tips

The WWCC women can turn to a number of players to lead the way against Pierce on Saturday.

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Walla Walla Community College head coach Bobbi Hazeltine (center) pleads her case to two officials during the closing minutes of the Warriors' loss to Yakima for the NWAACC championship during last year's tournament. Hazeltine leads the Warriors against Pierce as this year's NWAACC Championships open Saturday.

WALLA WALLA - Leslie Stillar has been Walla Walla's most consistent scorer this season, and she leads the Warriors with a 13.7 scoring average going into the women's NWAACC Championships that tips off Saturday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

But if the Pierce Raiders, WWCC's first-round opponent, come into the noon game with a defensive scheme designed to shut down the 5-foot-6 sophomore guard, they could be making a grave mistake.

That's because 6-foot sophomore post Tai Jensen has been the Warriors' go-to offensive weapon over the second half of the Eastern Region season.

Jensen has scored 20 or more points in five of her team's last seven games, and she's averaging an even 20 points per game over that same seven-game stretch.

"Tai has really come on and had a great second half of the season," Walla Walla coach Bobbi Hazeltine said of Jensen, who is averaging 13.5 points over the course of the entire season. "In fact, she's had a double-double in each of her last three games."

Jensen's second-half surge gives the Warriors three double-figure scorers going into the tournament.

Freshman Hailey Felgenhauer, a 5-11 forward, sports an 11.3 scoring average.

And there's more.

Alex Pfefferle, a 5-9 sophomore who can play either guard or forward, is averaging nine points a game as the Warriors' first player off the bench.

Sienna Edmunson, another 5-9 sophomore, averages 6.3 points per game; reserve Michelle Seitz, a 5-6 freshman guard, is right behind with a 6.1 average; and Janae Klarich, the team's 5-5 sophomore point guard, averages 4.9 points a game.

Balance, it seems, describes the Warriors to a tee. A glance at the NWAACC's season statistical leaders is a sure indicator.

There isn't a single Warrior among the league's top 20 in scoring, rebounding or steals.

Edmunson ranks 17th in assists with 3.73 per game, and she's the only WWCC player to appear among the leaders.

"It's because we're so balanced," Hazeltine said. "The teams who have people among those stat leaders are usually teams that rely on one or two kids. We don't."

Pierce might fall into that category.

Unique Taufa'asau, a 5-9 sophomore, is the Raiders' leading scorer, and her 16.7 scoring average ranks 11th overall in the NWAACC.

Pierce's Riley Taylor, a 5-10 soph, is eighth in the league in rebounding at 9.1 boards per game. And Natasha Trinidad, a 5-5 sophomore, is the NWAACC's steals leader with 114.

From an offensive standpoint, Pierce ranks sixth in the NWAACC in points scored (1,860) and the Warriors are seventh (1,856) in the same number of games. But Walla Walla has been the more efficient unit.

As a team, the Warriors are shooting 42 percent from the field, 36 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and 69 percent from the free-throw line.

The Raiders are a 35-percent shooting team overall, and they shoot 24 percent from 3-point distance and 64 percent from the line.

Pierce and Walla Walla rank eighth and ninth, respectively, in rebounding, but they are almost identical.

The Raiders average 45.77 rebounds a game and the Warriors are at 45.69.

"We know they are quick and we know they press a lot," Hazeltine said of the Raiders. "And we know they have a lot of sophomores, so they have experience, too. We're still waiting for film on them, so we'll know a lot more after spending some hours watching film."

The teams have never matched up in the NWAACC tournament, Hazeltine said, and she can recall facing the Raiders just one time during the regular season.

"It was in some kind of a tournament in Tacoma," she remembered. "And it was years ago. We haven't played them since."

The Warriors are making their 12th consecutive appearance in the tournament and they've never failed to place during those dozen years.

Walla Walla won NWAACC championships n 2001 and 2010.

Last year, all four of the Eastern Region's tournament qualifiers made it as far as the semifinals. Hazeltine believes the East has been just as strong in 2012.

"I think playing those other three teams (Columbia Basin, Yakima and Blue Mountain) two and three times is the best possible preparation we can have for this tournament," she said.

And the Warriors coach has no doubt in her mind who the tournament favorite is.

"Columbia Basin's the best," she said of the NWAACC's No. 1-ranked team. "CBC is clearly the team to beat.

"It was amazing," Hazeltine added. "They played in our Warriors Classic early in the season and were just average, and all of a sudden they just got better."

The Hawks, who take a 25-2 record into their tournament opener against Tacoma Saturday afternoon at 2, defeated Walla Walla twice during the regular season, 62-53 in the Dietrich Dome and 65-53 in the rematch in Pasco.

"We were with them for a half in both games," Hazeltine said. "We would love to play them again, but the only way that will happen is on the final day. That's what we want, and it would be great if it's the right game. I would be surprised if CBC doesn't get there.

"But we're going to have to win those other games first."

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