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Senior stars, bench depth have WWU ready for another West Regional run 

Vikings need three wins to reach Elite Eight

Western senior forward Brooke Walling leans in for a layup against MSU Billings Saturday, March 9 during the Vikings’ 54-52 win in the GNAC Tournament championship at Nicholson Arena in Ellensburg, Kittitas County. (Jacob Thompson/Central Washington University Athletics)
By Mathew Callaghan Sports Intern

As No. 3-seeded Western Washington University women’s basketball enters its fourth straight NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament, Vikings head coach Carmen Dolfo said they are aiming to focus on what they can control. 

Western (23-6), now back-to-back Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament champions, will face No. 6 Cal Poly Pomona (20-9) in the quarterfinals at noon on Friday, March 15 at the Felix Event Center in Azusa, California (see full schedule here). 

“We haven’t played [Cal Poly Pomona] for a long time,” Dolfo said. “But we’ve had the opportunity to watch them on film. They’re a really good team; they’re very balanced. They’ve got great drivers, they’ve got some really good shooters, and they play really hard.” 

The last meeting between the two teams was on Nov. 21, 2008 — a 75-68 win for the Vikings. Western is 7-7 all-time against Cal Poly Pomona. 

With seven other teams in the tournament and three wins needed to advance to the Elite Eight, the Vikings hope to have their fair share of defenses to break down, offenses to outplay and teams to outhustle.  

Western senior guard Stephanie Peterson sets up the Vikings’ offense against MSU Billings. (Jacob Thompson/Central Washington University Athletics)

Led by seniors like forward Brooke Walling and guard Stephanie Peterson, the Vikings have a roster filled with capable defenders, willing passers, sharpshooting guards and dynamic scorers. During the GNAC Tournament, the team’s depth was on full display.  

“We’ve had some great games, and we’ve had some rough games, but I think this team will never stop battling,” Dolfo added. “That’s the one thing I’m just super proud of them for — I know whatever happens they will not go down without a fight.” 

In the semifinal game against Alaska Anchorage, junior guard Riley Dykstra had 24 points and was 8-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. Walling had a near triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists and Peterson scored 17 points. 

In the title game against top-ranked MSU Billings, Western prevailed thanks to clutch baskets coming at the right moments — including a game-winner from Walling. Dolfo, now in her 33rd season as the Vikings’ head coach, said she believes her team is playing their best basketball of the season at the right time, and there is something special about the team this year. 

“I think it’s our balance,” Dolfo said. “They’re definitely committed to defense. I think we have a good inside-outside game, which certainly helps [because] if they take one thing away, we hope that we’ll be able to step up with the other. I think they just really enjoy playing with each other and they work really hard.” 

In 2022, the Vikings won the West Regional title. As a sophomore, Walling, who had just transferred from Division I Fresno State, averaged 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds over three games and was named West Regional All-Tournament MVP. Western made it all the way to the NCAA Division II National Championship against Glenville State in Birmingham, Alabama.  

Western Washington University players celebrate during the Vikings’ win in the GNAC Tournament championship. (Jacob Thompson/Central Washington University Athletics)

Now, two years later, Walling averaged 16.4 points (seventh in GNAC), 3.4 assists (seventh), 9 rebounds (first) and 1.9 blocks (second) in the regular season. She led the team in scoring, but a few players were not far behind. In total, six players averaged at least seven points per game this season. Sophomore guard Mason Oberg averaged 11.8 points per game while Dykstra added 10.8. 

Junior forward Aspen Garrison makes her impact on the interior, averaging 9.7 points per game on 51.2% shooting and 4.4 rebounds. Garrison, Dolfo’s daughter, is also a skilled defender on the inside. 

Senior guard Stephanie Peterson led the league in steals with 2.7 per game and was third in assists with 3.9. Peterson averaged a respectable 7.5 points per game, but the guard’s defensive instincts and playmaking ability are where she’s known to impact the game.  

Junior guards Olivia Wikstrom and Maddy Grandbois are also expected to see significant time in the tournament. 

“I could go down the line and look at different players on our team that have stepped up in different situations through the whole season,” Dolfo said. “I think they have a lot of faith in each other, and I think it depends a lot on what Cal Poly Pomona decides to take away from us and what they decide to give us.” 

NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament team capsules

No. 1 Azusa Pacific (26-3) 

Azusa Pacific captured the first seed after taking home the regular season and PacWest Tournament title for the third straight year. Five players averaged more than nine points per game and junior forward Kelly Heimburger became the second player in conference history to be named Player of the Year and Defender of the Year in the same season. She averaged 15.5 points per game, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals. 

No. 2 Cal State San Marcos (20-6) 

Two players on this roster averaged more than 16 points per game: senior forward Jordan Vasquez (16.1 points and 12 rebounds on 55.7% shooting) and 5-foot-4 junior guard Charity Gallegos (16.1 points, 3.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds). Cal State San Marcos beat Western earlier this season, 73-68, on Nov. 17, 2023. 

No. 4 MSU Billings (26-6) 

After losing to Western in the GNAC Finals, MSU Billings’ suffocating defense and impressive shot-making skills are sure to be present in the tournament. Forward Kola Bad Bear took home GNAC Player of the Year honors, averaging 16.7 points and 6.2 rebounds with efficient shooting. 

No. 5 Chico State (20-9)

Chico State, in its first West Regional since 2014, is led by four players each averaging more than 10 points per game. Senior guard Zhane Duckett led the team in scoring with 14.9 points and 5.1 rebounds. Behind her is junior guard Jordan Allred (12.2 points), senior guard Brandy Huffhines (11.9) and junior forward Makenzi Laporte (10.7). 

No. 6 Cal Poly Pomona (20-9)

The first team that Western will face in the West Regional Tournament is not a superb 3-point shooting team, but instead looks to attack the paint and finish around the rim. Freshman forward Sydney Nelson led the team with 15.2 points per game and 6.6 rebounds. Three other players averaged at least 10 points a night. 

No. 7 Point Loma (18-12)

Seven players put up at least six points per game, with junior guard Tavia Rowell (15.3 points) leading the pack. As a team, Point Loma shot 30.1% from behind the arc and 42.9% overall. Point Loma will be difficult to contain if they make their shots at an efficient rate.  

No. 8 Cal State LA (17-2)

Sneaking in at the eighth seed, Cal State LA junior guard Lily Buggs led her squad with 13.3 points per game. Alongside Buggs, the team has other talented senior guards including Nicole Flennaugh (12.8 points), Alicia Jones (8.9) and Gabriella Rones (8.6). Cal State LA lost to Western in the second game of the 2024 season, 76-69.

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