WALLA WALLA — Whitman senior power forward Meghan White still has the Post-It note that her father, Brian, pressed to the wall of her dorm room freshmen year. She has its concise, two-part directive memorized.
“He wrote ‘Things to Do Before Graduation,’” White said. “No. 1 was ‘Win a conference title.’ No. 2 was ‘Graduate.’”
White is on the brink of doing both in her valedictory semester, and No. 1 on Papa White’s to-do list is just a few hurdles away.
But they are tall hurdles, none taller — literally — than a showdown against George Fox at 6 p.m. Friday at Sherwood Center.
“They are taller than us at every position,” said White. “They’re a great program. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a battle.”
Whitman is ranked second in the nation in the d3hoops.com Week 10 women’s basketball Top 25 poll, and is one of just seven undefeated NCAA Division III teams in the country. George Fox is ranked seventh.
And it is Senior Weekend, which means a big crowd and player families in attendance.
“I’m really excited,” White said.
If Whitman is to claim its first conference championship since the 2003-’04 campaign, it must finish as strongly as it has started in an already-historic season. Head coach Michelle Ferenz became the winningest coach in the history of the program in December, and the Missionaries on Saturday set a single-season record for wins (21) by beating the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.
They are four victories from running the regular-season table for the first time in program history.
“This isn’t do-or-die for either team, but we can really put ourselves in the driver’s seat to win a conference title,” said Ferenz. “This is what you work for all year, to play in these types of games.”
The Missionaries (21-0, 12-0 in league) dealt George Fox (19-1, 10-1) its only loss of the season on Jan. 18in Newberg, Ore., overcoming a late second-half deficit and finishing the game on a 16-2 run.
That win gave Whitman “confidence that we can come back in a (hostile) atmosphere,” White noted, and “really tested our character.”
It also seemed to light a fire under the Bruins, who have won seven Northwest Conference titles since Whitman last wore the crown. Following the loss to Whitman, they won their next five games by an average margin of 21 points, a rampage that includes Tuesday’s 87-66 win at Pacific.
George Fox is “long and tall, the one team that is definitely bigger than us,” said Ferenz. “They run a lot of stuff, a lot of different sets. We’ve got to get ready for it. We have to be very organized in how we approach this game. It is really important that our kids know their personnel and their tendencies.
“That’s always important, but it’s especially important against George Fox.”
Ferenz is wary of George Fox center Jordyn Peacock, a 6-foot-3 center averaging 8.2 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks per game, and “veteran point guard” Hayley Cusick, who leads the team in minutes per game (23.9) while averaging 9.2 ppg, 2.5 assists per game and 2.4 steals per game. A trio of Bruins average just over 10 points per game, and leading scorer Jami Roos (10.9 ppg) comes off the bench, a sign of the Bruins’ depth.
Whitman will counter Peacock and Cusick with its All-American candidates: senior post Sarah Anderegg (16.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and junior point guard Heather Johns (19.2 ppg, 6.1 apg). White’s rebounding savvy (8.2 per game) and the long-range marksmanship of Tiffani Traver (49 made 3-pointers) will be crucial, along with the Missionaries’ exceptional depth.
“They are definitely one of the best defensive teams in the conference, and they have a lot of weapons on offense,” White said. “We’re going to need poise on offense against their pressure. We have to be mentally prepared.”
“We’re both going to make plays and make stops,” added Ferenz. “It will come down to who can string them together.”
“This is the time of year when no one is going to change. They are who they are. We are who we are. You just hope to step up.”