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Western women’s hoops vying for back-to-back GNAC titles

Second-seeded Vikings have first-round bye to semifinals

Western Washington University's Brooke Walling gets a low highfive from her teammate as other players slow down around them.
Western Washington University's Brooke Walling gets a hand from teammate Maddy Grandbois after scoring her 1,000th career point on Saturday, Jan. 27, during a 76-68 win over Montana State University Billings at Carver Gymnasium. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Mathew Callaghan Sports Intern

Western Washington women’s basketball will look to defend its Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships title when it plays in the GNAC tournament semifinals at noon Friday, March 8 in Ellensburg. 

The second-seeded Vikings (21-6, 14-4 GNAC) earned a first-round bye and will face the winner of No. 3 Alaska Anchorage and No. 6 Seattle Pacific, which play each other on Thursday, March 7. 

If they win that matchup, they advance to the finals where they will play one of three potential teams: No. 1 MSU Billings, No. 4 Central Washington or No. 5 Simon Fraser.  

The Vikings are led by four all-GNAC players, spearheaded by first-teamer Brooke Walling, who led the team in scoring (16.4 ppg) and led the league with nine rebounds per game and 58.4% shooting from the field. The senior forward is the only GNAC player to be top 10 in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. 

“Brooke has carried us in so many ways,” Western head coach Carmen Dolfo said. “But I think we have a really balanced team and a lot of people contributing. We have four players scoring in double figures and many close behind. So, I think the strength of our team has been the ability to have so many different people step up.” 

Western Washington University's Riley Dykstra sinks a 3-pointer as her teammates get excited in anticipation of the shot.
Western’s Riley Dykstra, an all-GNAC honorable mention, will look to help the Vikings defend their conference tournament title. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Sophomore guard Mason Oberg was second-team all-GNAC after averaging 11.7 points per game and ranking second in the league in 3-point percentage (44.8%). 

Junior guard Riley Dykstra and senior guard Stephanie Peterson were both named honorable mentions. Dykstra averaged 10.6 points per game and has the third-best 3-point percentage in the GNAC (43.3%). Peterson is the GNAC steals leader (2.7 per game) and ranks third in assists (3.9 per game). 

Junior forward Aspen Garrison was not named all-GNAC despite being the fourth Viking averaging double-digit points this year (10 ppg). The 6-foot-3 Sehome grad had 4.4 rebounds per game and shot 51.2% from the floor. 

Western has a deep roster filled with capable scorers who can impact the game on a variety of levels. The team leads the league in scoring offense at 72.2 points per game, and has the second-best defense, allowing 59.7 points per game. 

Players celebrate as Western Washington University's Aspen Garrison draws a foul.
Western’s Aspen Garrison, middle, is a key offensive contributor for the Vikings, averaging an even 10 points per game. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Moving into the tournament, Dolfo hopes Western fans will show up to root for their team, whether that’s in person or virtually. 

“We’ve lost to Anchorage twice,” Dolfo said. “So, there’s a good shot that we’re going to play them in the first round. Certainly, we want to get revenge for those games. If we happen to get past the first one … then we’ll probably play Billings, but it’s hard to say who you’re going to play in a tournament because anything can happen. I think there’s a lot of teams that are good, and we’re going to have to be ready.” 

Below are capsules for each of the other five teams in the GNAC tournament. 

No. 1 Montana State University Billings (25-5, 16-2 GNAC) 

With the conference’s Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and four All-GNAC selections, Billings is the regular-season GNAC champ for a reason. Kola Bad Bear, the Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, led the team with 16.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The Yellowjackets have the best defense in the league and rank second in offense. 

No. 3 Alaska Anchorage (18-8, 13-5 GNAC)  

Having bested Western twice in the regular season, a quarterfinal matchup against this defensive juggernaut could prove to be a battle. Alaska Anchorage led the league in steals per game (13.4) and had a well-balanced roster filled with capable scorers like Vishe’ Rabb, who averages 16.8 points a night. 

No. 4 Central Washington (18-11, 10-8 GNAC) 

Central has two talented scorers averaging the most points in the GNAC this season. Sophomore guard Asher Cai averaged 20 points per game, which is 10th best in the nation in Division II. Behind her is 5-foot-4 junior guard Valerie Huerta at 18.2 points per game. Shooting the second-best field goal percentage as a team at 42.7% and having a league-best 8.1 made 3-pointers per game makes this team an offensive force to be reckoned with.  

No. 5 Simon Fraser (17-13, 10-8 GNAC) 

Simon Fraser had the third-best scoring offense this season at 71.5 points per game. Junior guard Sophia Wisotzki led the team in scoring and was third in the GNAC at 17.4 points per game. Junior forward Gemma Cutler averages 2.8 blocks per game. Beating Western by one point in the Vikings’ regular-season finale might add some fuel to the fire should the two teams face each other in the finals. 

No. 6 Seattle Pacific (11-17, 8-10 GNAC) 

While boasting the worst record amongst the teams listed above, Seattle Pacific was third in the GNAC defensive field goal percentage at 39.5%. Three players score at least nine points per game, with junior forward Olivia Mayer leading the team with 15.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. The Falcons have the fourth-best scoring defense but ranked ninth out of 10 teams in scoring offense. 

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