Western Washington women's basketball coach Carmen Dolfo doesn't have to bother ordering the "Hello, my name is:" stickers this season.
Most everybody is quite familiar with one another already.
"We're very comfortable with each other," said center Britt Harris, who is one of four returning senior starters for the Vikings this season. "We work very well together, and we already know all about each other."
A year ago, Dolfo and Western returned only one senior - Kristin Schramm.
This year, not only is 80 percent of their starting lineup returning seniors - Harris, guards Corinn Waltrip and Trishi Williams and forward Erika Ramstead - the Vikings return nine letter winners and two other red shirts off a team that went 22-8 and reached the NCAA Division II Western Regional semifinals.
The Vikings hope to put that experience to work this season, as they prepare to host the Lynda Goodrich Classic on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 23-24, at Sam Carver Gymnasium.
"Last year, I think they definitely exceeded expectations," Dolfo said in a phone interview. "We were laughing this morning about how long it took to explain things and teach what needed to be taught last year. This year, we can say things, and they all pretty much understand what we're looking for. There are not as many new people that need to understand what is going on."
The only three starting from scratch are true freshmen Kiana Gandy - a first-team All-South Puget Sound League North Division selection from Mount Rainier - Aleisha Hathaway - a first-team All-Greater Spokane League selection from Shadle Park - and Jasmine McCleave - a third-team All-Metro League selection from Holy Names Academy.
The other nine players on Western's roster have a foundation to build off, and eight of those nine have at least stepped on a court during a game wearing the Vikings' blue, silver and white.
"I think it's been really helpful with the learning curve," Waltrip said in a phone interview. "It hasn't been so big this year. Instead of teaching the principles of Western basketball, as we like to call it, we've been able to work on perfecting everything and playing as a team."
Playing as a team certainly shouldn't be a problem for this year's squad.
Not only do the Vikings return a number of players, they return players that actually like each other.
"We're a tight group," Waltrip said. "I'm roommates with Erika, and we're good friends with Britt. We hang out outside of basketball, too. Trishi is kind of new to the group after she transferred in, but she fits in great. Everyone on this team gets along. We don't care who it is, we just get along. ... We enjoy each other's company. We can just sit on the couch and talk."
And a team that can talk about things on the couch can certainly communicate on the court.
"We won't have the personality bugs to work through," Harris said. "When you have a group of girls, quite often you've got personality issues or cliques that develop. But we're so close and open, we don't have to deal with any of that. We don't have to deal with the drama."
Instead, the team can focus on playing basketball and getting better.
That's a pretty frightening concept, considering that without that familiarity and level of experience entering last season, Western still finished second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 14-4 mark and advanced to the postseason for the 13th time in the 14 years the program has been playing in the NCAA Division II ranks.
This year, the Vikings already have garnered enough interest to earn the No. 12 ranking in the Division II Bulletin Preseason Poll, and they since have moved up to No. 9 after a pair of season-opening victories last weekend over Azusa Pacific and UC San Diego - the team that ended Western's season last year in the regional semifinals.
"That's really exciting," Ramstead said in a phone interview. "We all know how hard we work in practice every day and the expectations we have for ourselves. To hear that people outside the program have high expectations for us as well, it's an honor. Now we hope to go out and prove those expectations."
With so many returning pieces, the Vikings have certainly set the bar high.
Of course sharing the gym with the defending men's national champions hasn't hurt where the women's team set its goals for 2012-13.
"It's not like they let us forget it," Ramstead joked. "The guys, that was so amazing to watch all that happen. To see them and know they did it, you start thinking, 'Why can't we get to the Elite Eight and maybe even play for a national championship?' We feel we have all the tools. Now it's just a matter of putting all the tools together and doing the job."
With four returning starters, Western certainly has plenty of choices when it opens the toolbox.
Though the graduation of Schramm - who remains with the program as a student assistant coach - and her 12.9 points per game cost the Vikings their top scorer from 2011-12, Waltrip was Western's second-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game. And she is just the first of many options for a balanced WWU squad.
Waltrip was a second-team All-GNAC selection last year after leading the team with 3.7 assists, hitting a team-high 91.2 percent of her free throws and making a school-record tying 27 straight free throws at one point.
"She is our floor leader," Dolfo said of Waltrip. "This is her third year as our starting point guard, and she's very bright in the way she plays on the floor. She makes very good decisions and she's a competitor. She does not like to lose."
Neither does Williams, who averaged 9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season after starting 20 games in her first year at Western.
She'll team nicely with Waltrip to give the Vikings an aggressive, hard-nosed backcourt.
"Trishi is very athletic," Dolfo said. "She is definitely our best driver to the basket. She is feisty and a hard worker."
In the post, the Vikings can rely on Harris, who had a breakout year as a junior, when she averaged 9.9 points and recorded a team-high 6.5 rebounds.
"Britt really stepped up at the end of last season," Dolfo said. "She carried us at the end of the season, especially in the playoffs. I think she realized what she could do, and I expect her to be a big scorer and rebounder for us again this year."
Though she may not put up the big numbers (4.0 points, 4.0 rebounds) of her senior classmates, Ramstead plays an invaluable role, bringing all the pieces together. Dolfo called the Nooksack Valley product a special leader for the team.
"Erika is so smart on the floor," Dolfo said. "She sees everything so well. She's a great passer and can score. She brings a lot of enthusiasm to the court, as well. I can't tell you how much that means, not only in games, but in practices. She is someone who does all the little things for us."
Like Harris and Waltrip, Ramstead is three-year letter winner at Western.
"Britt and Corinn are my two closest friends on the team," Ramstead said. "It's been a whirlwind. It seems like we blinked and yesterday we were freshmen. It was fun to watch us progress. Britt is much more outgoing now, and Corinn is more out-spoken. Now we're 21 or 22 years old, and we've grown as people as well as players. ... It's a lot of fun playing with each other, because we've grown up together and we know what each other is going to do. If I drive the middle, I know Britt is going to pop outside, so I can pass it to her. Or I can tell by looking at Corinn when she's feeling hot, and it's time to get her the ball. We just know each other so well."
WWU's lone returning junior is post Sarah Hill, who averaged 3.3 points and 4.3 rebounds, though former Lynden standout Brandi Benner red shirted last year after transferring from Skagit Valley College.
Four sophomores saw regular action last year, with forward Sydney Donaldson making 13 starts and averaging 5.8 points and 3.7 rebounds and leading the team with 1.1 blocks per game. Guard Katie Colard also averaged 5.8 points and showed good touch from 3-point range. They're joined by sophomore center Kayla Bernsen (5.1 points, 4.1 rebounds) and guard Jenni White (1.3 points) and red shirt sophomore guard Marcel Pounds.
"Any given night, anybody can score for us," Ramstead said. "I think that makes us difficult to scout and difficult to stop. We've got Corinn; we've got Sarah; we've got Britt; we've got Trishi - you can't focus on stopping just one person. I don't know that a lot of teams have that ability. I think that's something we're pretty pumped about. It doesn't matter to us who has a big game, as long as we get a win."
With Western's tremendous balance and returning experience and chemistry, expect the Vikings to do plenty of winning this season, as the conference coaches have picked them to win the GNAC title.
"The key for us this year is our confidence," Harris said. "We know how to play hard and how to play Western basketball, we just need to go out and do it. If we do that, we'll be best that we can be. We have the skill and the mindset to have a great season. We can do some pretty great things. Now it's just a matter of going out and doing it."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
WWU'S WEEKEND TOURNAMENTS
LYNDA GOODRICH WOMEN'S CLASSIC
FRIDAY, NOV. 23
Saint Martin's vs. Evergreen, noon
Carroll at WWU, 5 p.m.
SATURDAY, NOV. 24
Saint Martin's vs. Carroll, noon
Evergreen at WWU, 7:30 p.m.
NOTE: All games at Sam Carver Gymnasium
CHUCK RANDALL MEN'S CLASSIC
FRIDAY, NOV. 23
Alaska Fairbanks vs. Southwest Baptist, 2:30 p.m.
Concordia-St. Paul at WWU, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, NOV. 24
Alaska Fairbanks vs. Concordia-St. Paul, 3 p.m.
Southwest Baptist at WWU, 5 p.m.
NOTE: All games at Sam Carver Gymnasium
2012-13 WWU KEYS TO SUCCESS
1. Chemistry: With four returning senior starters and a team that likes being around each other on and off the court, Western should have plenty this year, and that could translate into big things. "We always say that good chemistry off the court translates into good chemistry on it," senior Britt Harris said. "We have a familiarity with each other, and we're able to work together."
2. Balance: The Vikings have good size and good speed. They can score from the perimeter or in the post, and they can also rebound and play defense. With so many different options, the team won't have to rely on just one or two players. "Anybody can have a big night for us," senior Erika Ramstead said. "If somebody has an off night, we have a number of different options."
3. Confidence: With so many players back off a team that advanced to the NCAA Division II West Regional semifinals last year, Western has set its sights pretty high this year. The team is already ranked No. 9 in the nation and has been picked to win the GNAC title. "We hope to reach our potential and play our best basketball," coach Carmen Dolfo said. "We are excited to play each game and try to get better in each game."
2012-13 WWU PLAYERS TO WATCH
5-6, Sr. Guard
A second-team All-GNAC selection as a junior, Waltrip is the team's leading returning scorer at 11.8 points per game and led the team with 3.7 assists per game. She runs the Vikings' offense and brings a never-quit attitude to the team's defense. "She needs to run the show, and she has the experience and the intelligence to do that," Dolfo said.
6-2, Sr. Center
A physical presence in the middle for WWU, Harris came on strong at the end of last season, averaging 9.9 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game. "She has good touch and good rebounding instincts. She needs to stay out of foul trouble, but I think she started to do a better job of that toward the end of last year," Dolfo said.
5-9, Sr. Guard
In her first year since transferring from Columbia Basin Community College, Williams brought a lot of skill and the perfect attitude to the Vikings and immediately fit in with her new teammates. "Trishi made a huge impact for us last year. She can score, she can create and she's a really hard worker. She adds a lot," Dolfo said.
2012-13 WWU WOMEN'S ROSTER
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr. Hometown
0 Sarah Hill F 6-3 Jr. Richmond, Va.
1 Corinn Waltrip G 5-6 Sr. Tigard, Ore.
3 Brandi Benner G 5-5 Jr.* Lynden
10 Trishi Williams G 5-9 Sr. Mabton
15 Erika Ramstead F 6-0 Sr. Everson
20 Katie Colard G 5-9 So. McCleary
22 Jenni White G 5-5 So. Spokane
23 Marcel Pounds G 5-8 So.* Bonney Lake
31 Jasmine McCleave F 5-10 Fr. Renton
32 Britt Harris C 6-2 Sr. Marysville
33 Kiana Gandy F 5-10 Fr. Des Moines
34 Kayla Bernsen C 6-3 So. Moses Lake
35 Aleisha Hathaway G 5-9 Fr. Spokane
42 Sydney Donaldson F 6-0 So. Edmonds
2012-13 WWU WOMEN'S SCHEDULE
Date Opponent Result
Nov. 16 Azusa Pacific W 73-59
Nov. 17 UC San Diego W 69-51
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 23 Carroll 5 p.m.
Nov. 24 Evergreen 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 29 Western Oregon* 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 Saint Martin's* 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Chico State 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8 Sonoma State (at Chico State) 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 18 Washburn (at Las Vegas) 3 p.m.
Dec. 19 Grand Canyon (at Las Vegas) 3 p.m.
Jan. 3 at Alaska Anchorage* 8 p.m.
Jan. 5 at Alaska Fairbanks* 8 p.m.
Jan. 12 Simon Fraser* 5:15 p.m.
Jan. 17 Seattle Pacific* 7 p.m.
Jan. 19 Montana State Billings* 7 p.m.
Jan. 24 at Central Washington* 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 at Northwest Nazarene* 6 p.m.
Jan. 31 Alaska Fairbanks* 5:15 p.m.
Feb. 2 Alaska Anchorage* 5:15 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Simon Fraser* 7 p.m.
Feb. 14 at Montana State Billings* 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 16 at Seattle Pacific* 5:15 p.m.
Feb. 21 Northwest Nazarene* 7 p.m.
Feb. 23 Central Washington* 7 p.m.
Feb. 28 at Saint Martin's* 7 p.m.
March 2 at Western Oregon* 2 p.m.
2011-12 WWU WOMEN'S LEADERS
Player G Pts. Avg.
Kristin Schramm 30 388 12.9
Corinn Waltrip* 30 355 11.8
Britt Harris* 29 286 9.9
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Player FGM FGA Pct.
Britt Harris* 120 207 .580
Trishi Williams* 104 194 .536
Sydney Donaldson* 78 148 .527
Player 3PM 3PA Pct.
Trishi Williams* 7 16 .438
Erin Feeney 25 64 .391
Kristin Schramm 57 150 .380
FREE THROW PERCENTAGE
Player FTM FTA Pct.
Erin Feeney 6 6 1.000
Corinn Waltrip* 62 68 .912
Sydney Donaldson* 12 14 .857
Player G Reb. Avg.
Britt Harris* 29 188 6.5
Trishi Williams* 30 137 4.6
Kristin Schramm 30 134 4.5
Player G Ast. Avg.
Corinn Waltrip* 30 110 3.7
Trishi Williams* 30 100 3.3
Britt Harris* 29 50 1.7
Player G Stl. Avg.
Kristin Schramm 30 50 1.7
Trishi Williams* 30 39 1.3
Corinn Waltrip* 30 35 1.2
Player G Blk. Avg.
Sydney Donaldson 30 32 1.1
Kayla Bernsen* 30 27 0.9
Trishi Williams* 30 18 0.6
2012-13 GNAC COACHES POLL
1. Western Washington (7) 22-8 96
2. Simon Fraser (3) 17-11 93
3. Seattle Pacific 17-10 76
4. Montana State Billings 18-12 63
5. Alaska Anchorage 30-5 57
6. Northwest Nazarene 18-10 56
7. Central Washington 9-17 47
8. Western Oregon 7-21 30
9. Saint Martin's 9-19 18
10. Alaska Fairbanks 6-22 14
NOTE: First-place votes in parenthesis. Points awarded on 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.