Different year, similar goals for women’s basketball

Cole Anderson

The Whitman women’s basketball team started this season with one main goal: get back to the national tournament. After last year’s dominant national championship run, that goal seemed well within reach. But after a difficult preseason schedule and some injuries to key players, that goal is further out of reach.

The team is still optimistic about their prospects of going to the tournament, but this year’s path to the tournament has already been quite different than last season.

“The overriding destination has always been conference championships and playoffs, so even though some of the smaller stats and goals haven’t been met, we still feel on track for that overall goal,” said Michelle Ferenz, head women’s basketball coach.

Those smaller stats are mostly simple game stats like turnovers and rebounds, but for a team that is relatively young and inexperienced, small stats are a big focus.

Junior guard Hailey McDonald spoke to the improvements that have been made by her younger teammates.

“We knew it was going to be tough and a lot of adjustments were going to have be made by a lot of people. It’s hard to explain to someone what it takes to play at the level we do and more something that needs to be experienced, and I think that everyone, though it came at different speeds, have handled it wonderfully,” she said.

Though last year’s seniors were particularly important to the team’s postseason run, McDonald also stressed that every season requires some adjustments.

“Every year is going to change when seniors graduate and we get additions,” she said. “The season is going really well. It took a bit to find our groove and I feel like we still have a bit to go, but the team is great.”

McDonald is one of the team’s starters who has been sidelined by an injury, but she believes her new role has been good for her.

“Now that I am injured and potentially out for awhile, I have really been trying to work on my role as solely a leader and offering my input and what I see to the girls who have to pick up extra minutes. I feel like it’s going well so far,” said McDonald.

That attitude seems to be a trend on this team, where individual play is an afterthought and the improvement of the team as a whole is the main focus.

“It really doesn’t matter to me how I’m doing personally if the team isn’t succeeding as well, so my goals are all still oriented around that,” said senior guard and captain Heather Johns.

Johns had been battling nagging injuries and had to sit out in the game against Pacific Lutheran University, one that she thinks was a defining moment for the team.

“I was really proud of how our team handled [the Pacific game]. We were missing two starters and we were able to get the win, so I think that showed a great amount of character and maturity and I was really proud of the team,” said Johns.

McDonald expressed similar thoughts.

“I think the Pacific game was a perfect example of how good and deep a team we truly are. A lot of girls were asked to step into bigger and more aggressive offensive roles with Heather Johns out and we played fantastically,” she said.

Senior forward and captain Hallie Buse has also been sidelined with an injury recently, putting even more pressure on the younger players.

But injuries haven’t been the only form of adversity for this team. They spent most of their preseason and much of the first half of conference on the road, and they are looking forward to more home games.

“I felt like I didn’t even have time to unpack. It felt like we were just always on the road. So it was good to know early that if we took care of business through the first half of the season, we’d be at home a lot more in the second half,” said Ferenz.

Now past the halfway point and sitting at third in the Northwest Conference, the team is poised to make a case for postseason play and is looking forward to finishing the season strong.

“It’s been a very different year but we keep moving forward and we keep getting better, and that’s all I can ask for,” said Ferenz.