Bobbi Hazeltine knows what it takes to win an NWAACC Championship — first hand and vicariously.
She has twice guided her Walla Walla women’s basketball team to NWAACC titles, the first time in 2001, her second year on the job, and then again in 2010.
Most recently — and perhaps more indelibly — Hazeltine sat in the Toyota Center stands last week in Kennewick and watched Columbia Basin College and her good friend Cheryl Holden, the longtime Hawks coach, cut down the nets following CBC’s 86-74 victory over Umpqua in the championship game.
It was the Hawks’ third NWAACC title in the past 10 years under Holden, who arrived in Pasco in 2002.
“CBC is so good, so solid, so fun to watch,” Hazeltine said of her arch rival in the NWAACC’s Eastern Region. “I predicted it wouldn’t be a game, and it really wasn’t.”
Hazeltine’s Warriors placed second behind the Hawks in this year’s East race, and they defeated Columbia Basin 69-57 on the final night of the regular season in Walla Walla. WWCC then went on to defeat Skagit Valley in the first round of the tournament but lost to Umpqua 81-72 in the quarterfinals and was eliminated by Clark the next afternoon.
“We came on the second half of the season, and we beat the eventual champs,” Hazeltine said. “And I’m not unhappy with how we played in the tournament. We played really hard, but we were up against two teams that were better than us.
“Columbia Basin is just so deep and that is how they end up beating the teams we can’t beat. To win it, you have to be deeper than we were.”
Improving her team’s overall depth is one of Hazeltine’s top priorities during the recruiting period that began the moment the horn sounded to end Clark’s 64-56 victory over WWCC in last Monday’s consolation-round game. And she’s determined to unearth a couple of shooters to complement freshman Karli McHone, the only bona fide 3-point shooter on this year’s team.
“We have visits scheduled this week and next,” Hazeltine said. “And maybe the week after that. We need to bring in a couple of inside kids, and we would like to bring in a shooting guard and a point guard.”
The biggest losses to graduation will be under the basket where Amy DeLong, Jessica Siler and MeShel Rad — Hazeltine’s Big Three — provided the bulk of the team’s scoring and rebounding. DeLong led the team with an 11.5 scoring average during the regular season and averaged 6.7 rebounds, Siler averaged a team-best 7.5 rebounds and scored at a 10.7 clip, and Rad was a steady 9.6 in scoring and 6.4 as a rebounder.
“None of them saw a ton of minutes as freshmen,” Hazeltine said. “I never thought they could contribute like they did. But by the end of the year, most of our points and all of our rebounds were coming from those three kids, and that is a big chunk to replace.”
The only other sophomores on the roster were reserve guard Josie Jordan and forward Saige Stefanski, who saw limited minutes playing behind DeLong, Siler and Rad.
“Josie is the only guard we are losing, and she had some big games for us this season,” Hazeltine said of Jordan, who averaged 5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in her reserve role. “Josie was good for us all year.
“And Saige, playing the same position as those other three girls, didn’t get the minutes, but she was always ready when we needed her. And we needed her and she gave us some huge minutes in the Clark game.”
All five of her sophomores have what it takes to play at the next level, Hazeltine said.
Freshmen Bailey Nygaard and Lainey Corbett started in the Warriors back court most of the season, and McHone was almost always the first player off the bench. Nygaard was the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.2 points per game and also averaged 4.5 rebounds, Corbett was the team’s assist leader at 2.8 per game, and McHone averaged 8.4 points and was the team’s best 3-pointer shooter at 37 percent.
Another first-year player, guard/forward Paige Vincent, averaged 4.4 points and 2.8 rebounds in her reserve role.
The other freshmen — guards Launie Davis and Brianne Stubbs and 6-foot post Devynn Johnson — saw limited minutes, although Johnson averaged 3.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game when she was on the court.
Hazeltine believes that Johnson and Vincent will go a long ways in filling the void on the Warriors’ front line. But she recognizes the need for more.
“Throughout the tournament, when one of those three girls — Jessica, Amy or MeShel — got into foul trouble, we didn’t have a go-to person off the bench,” the coach said. “We mixed people around to where we were playing four guards, but our strength as a team was inside.
“Whether it was foul trouble or if we just needed a rest, we needed more people.”
And more perimeter shooters.
McHone was a dynamic outside scoring threat for WWCC coming off the bench in the tournament. She was 15-for-39 from the field overall, made 14-of-37 from beyond the arc and averaged 15.6 points to lead the Warriors in scoring.
“She’s a pure shooter, our best shooter and also our backup point guard,” Hazeltine said of McHone. “But it was asking a lot to have her bring the ball up the floor, call the plays and then go find a spot to shoot. That’s why it is important to find a backup point guard so Karli can just play the two guard.”
Nygaard, who was second on the team in 3-point shooting during the regular season by connecting on 35 percent of her 120 attempts, struggled with her shot in the Toyota Center. She was 4-for-21 from 3-point distance, 4-for-30 overall and scored 16 points total in the three games.
“Our downfall at the tournament was outside shooting,” Hazeltine said. “Anytime we left a good player open, they would drain a 3. We had open looks and couldn’t knock them down. We have to get better on the perimeter.”
Hazeltine is confident Nygaard can be an important outside scoring threat as a sophomore.
“Bailey was one of our better shooters during the season, and the tournament experience is going to help her a ton,” Hazeltine said. “She is going to be counted on for a lot of scoring next year. She was on the All-East defensive team and did a lot of other things for us.
“And she is also very cerebral and understands the game. There were some games where she would even take over in the huddle, and I loved it because I realized that I just might have a coach out there on the floor. Nobody has done that here in few years.”
Corbett is a distributor, not a scorer, Hazeltine said, but she will be asked to expand her game as a sophomore.
“Our goal this spring is to put in hours and hours on her shot,” Hazeltine said. “She is not a scorer, she is a passer and a playmaker, but when people stop guarding her we need her to score. That is not her fault, it is my fault.”
The coach will be asking Vincent to develop her inside scoring the way Siler did between her freshman and sophomore seasons. The athletic Johnson already possesses one of the team’s best in-the-key jump shots and Hazeltine is making it her personal job “to make her better.”
Davis is the fastest player and the hardest worker on the team, Hazeltine said, and is still recovering from knee surgery in 2013. And she calls the five-foot Stubbs “a fireball with a great attitude” who also got behind early in the season because of a health issue.
There were also five redshirts on this year’s team who will be competing for playing time next season.
“We’ve already met with the team and told all of them what we expect,” Hazeltine said. “And they are already back in the gym working on their individual stuff.
“I’m not worried about the commitment level. These kids are all going to put in the time.”