WALLA WALLA — The youth movement is on for the Walla Walla Community College women’s basketball program.
The Warriors lost all five starters from a squad that finished 24-5 overall and took first in the NWAACC East Region last year.
This season, WWCC head coach Bobbi Hazeltine is counting on her five sophomores to step up and lead this unheralded roster.
“It’s a challenge because we didn’t play a lot of kids last year and that was my fault,” Hazeltine said. “Looking back, of course I wish we would have, but we really couldn’t. We were successful because we had a great group of sophomores — they were scorers, they were leaders, they were rebounders.”
Only two of the Warriors’ sophomores — Amy Delong and MeShel Rad — received significant playing time last season. Delong, who played primarily in the post last year, is making the switch to guard for the Warriors.
Delong’s versatility will be crucial, as she can use her 5-foot-9 height to post up against smaller guards, she said.
Hazeltine said switching Delong to guard adds leadership at a position that is almost exclusively freshmen.
“I’m more comfortable in the post area because in high school that’s what I did,” Delong said. “Now I’m getting used to playing both sides.”
Rad, a 5-11 forward, will be counted on for rebounds, Hazeltine said.
Rad came off the bench last season, but will anchor Walla Walla’s post offense.
“Rebounding will be our strength,” Hazeltine said. “We might win some games on the offensive glass. We rebound really well. I think we’ll rebound well defensively. But we’re going to have some offensive rebounds and score that way.”
Sophomore Josie Jordan is the only guard returning from last year’s team.
Luckily, Walla Walla brought in some talented freshmen to compete for spots this year, Hazeltine said.
Hazeltine said freshman Lainey Corbett has a hold on the starting point guard spot, but there are three other freshmen who will compete for minutes.
“She will have a lot of pressure on her because she’s the quarterback of our team,” Hazeltine said of Corbett. “We’re used to having experience there. She’s got a great understanding of the game. She’s mentally tough. She distributes the ball really well.”
Along with Corbett, Hazeltine said Launia Davis, who is returning from injury, Karli McHone and Brianne Stubbs are all battling for time at point guard.
With eight freshmen on this year’s roster, Hazeltine said the sophomores’ leadership abilities will be vital to the team’s success. Delong said the returners must share the lessons they learned from last year’s successful campaign.
“The sophomores are solid and they’re all going to see the floor a lot,” Hazeltine said. “I think the fact that they were part of that winning program last year, whether they got minutes or not, (now) they know what it takes. They’ve been in the gym a lot, they’ve put in a lot of time. They’re definitely going to be our leaders.”
After winning the NWAACC East region and reaching the postseason, Hazeltine said most conference foes have been quick to write off the young Warriors this year.
But for the lack of experience on the roster, Hazeltine said the team has a wealth of depth and she is excited to see who steps up during the season.
“There’s no so-called ‘household names,’” Hazeltine said. “We don’t have any all-league kids out here, yet. But there’s some that could be. Nobody had any big stats to recognize from last year, so they won’t know us. I’m very good with that. I think some people might know us by the end of the year.”
The Warriors open the regular season with the Yakima Valley Tip-Off, playing Chemekta at 4 p.m. Friday.
With a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team, Delong said the Warriors have the capability to make a postseason run.
“I think it’s going to take mental toughness and discipline for us to reach that goal,” Delong said. “We have the potential.”