WALLA WALLA — Attrition will go a long way in determining where Walla Walla Community College finishes in this year’s NWAACC Eastern Region basketball standings.
League play commences Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. when the Warriors travel to Pasco to take on Columbia Basin College in the Hawks’ gym.
WWCC coach Jeff Reinland will have no more than eight players at his disposal for the duration of the division campaign. He can only hope he will have no fewer than eight as the season wears on.
“We absolutely can’t afford any more injuries, that is for sure,” Reinland said.
The veteran coach began the season with an 11-player active roster plus seven players wearing red shirts. Two season-ending injuries and one academic eligibility issue has left the coach shorthanded.
“That’s the way it is and the way it is going to be,” said Reinland, who has no intention of activating any of his redshirt players.
“We’ve played our last five games with these eight players, and we’ve done pretty well,” Reinland added, noting that his team is 6-3 in its last nine games after beginning the year 0-3.
“Everybody’s going to play a lot. There’s not going to be any complaining about playing time. And some of these guys are going to find themselves playing 35-to-40 minutes a game.”
The Warriors began the year with one returning starter and three other sophomores who saw valuable playing time as freshmen. With six new freshmen rounding out the roster, Reinland considered the squad one of his deepest in several seasons.
But Morgan Scharf, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Davenport, Wash., broke his foot in preseason practice and was lost for the year. Then Caleb Bravard, a 6-7 sophomore, suffered a similar foot injury Dec. 14 against Linn-Benton in tournament play in Roseburg, Ore., an injury that will cost him the remainder of the year.
“That one stung us real bad,” Reinland said of Bravard’s injury. “It was one of those deals where we didn’t know the seriousness of the injury. He had the best game of his career (19 points, 10 rebounds) that night, but the next morning he could hardly walk.”
An MRI revealed that Bravard, who was averaging 13 points and six rebounds at the time, had also suffered a broken foot and his season was over.
The Warriors’ third casualty was 6-2 freshman guard Dakota Mortensen, who was ruled academically ineligible at the end of the fall quarter.
“He was not playing a lot,” Reinland said of Mortensen. “But he is a capable player, a player we were not afraid to put in the game if we needed him.”
Can a squad of eight players challenge for one of the Eastern Region’s four tournament tickets, much less a division title?
“Everyone in our division is good, and everyone is beatable,” Reinland assessed. “At one point Yakima was ranked No. 1 in the NWAACC and we nearly beat them (a 103-100 loss in last weekend’s Clackamas tournament).”
Big Bend enters East play with an 11-3 record and is the only team in the division that is ranked in the NWAACC’s top eight. The Vikings are sixth.
Yakima is 10-4 going into league play, Spokane 9-4, Treasure Valley 6-5, Big Bend 6-6, Wenatchee 6-7 and Columbia Basin 1-9.
“I’m picking Big Bend and Yakima to battle for the championship, then maybe Yakima,” Reinland said. “And I am hearing that Treasure Valley is real good.
“The good news is that every time you take the floor, you have a chance to win. There’s no one team where you go in thinking you can’t beat those guys.
“The bad news is, there isn’t a team in the league that can’t beat you by 16 points on a given night.”
Much will depend on the Warriors’ guard play.
Dylan Radliff, a 6-0 sophomore and the only returning starter from last year’s tournament team, is averaging 18.1 points per game, 14th in the NWAACC, and 4.9 assists per game, which ranks sixth.
But Case Rada, a 6-2 freshman from Kennewick, leads the Warriors in scoring with a 24.5 average. He’s second in the NWAACC in scoring behind Sean Price of Clark, who is at 26.5 points per game.
But here’s the worry. Rada has been playing all season on a sore knee.
“We thought it was tendonitis, but it is something else,” Reinland said. “There’s nothing to be done for it, just live through it. And he is.
“He has days when it hurts pretty bad. He’s missed practice time, but so far he hasn’t missed any games.”
Reinland is looking for some of his other players to bolster their contributions.
“Eric Harr is one player who is capable,” Reinland said of his 6-4 sophomore. Harr is averaging six points a game, but he scored 26 against Everett and 32 vs. Yakima in last weekend’s Clackamas tournament.
Another is Dallas Reich, the 6-4 guard out of Weston-McEwen.
“We have three guards who can score for us, and Dallas is a fourth,” Reinland said. “He keeps getting better day after day, and one day he is going to unleash.”
Eight players, Reinland said, is an adequate rotation. “Most teams only play eight anyway,” he said.
The secret, he said, will be holding back in practice and keeping his players fresh for the games.
That, of course, and avoiding any more injuries.