For just the second time in school history, the Western Washington University women's basketball team will host the West Regional of the NCAA Division II Championship.
The Vikings, who are making their 14th national tournament appearance in 15 years as a NCAA Division II member, are the No. 1 seed in the region and host No. 8 seed Academy of Art University in an opening-round contest at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Sam Carver Gymnasium.
WWU, ranked No. 6 in this week's USA Today Sports/ESPN NCAA Division II Top 25 Poll, enters the tournament with a 25-3 record and riding an eight-game winning streak, having claimed the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament championship with a 60-40 victory over Simon Fraser University on Saturday, March 10.
The Vikings also won the GNAC regular-season title with a 17-1 mark.
"This is only the second time in school history we've been the No. 1 seed," said WWU coach Carmen Dolfo, the GNAC Coach of the Year. "Our team has done a great job of staying focused and playing together. They've worked really hard for it. When you do those things, great things follow."
The winner of Saturday's opening-round contest will face the winner of the No. 4 Chico State (23-5) versus No. 5 Cal State Monterrey Bay (19-8) contest played at 5 p.m. Saturday, in a semifinal at 5 p.m. Monday, March 18. The championship game is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19.
On the other side of the bracket Saturday, No. 3 UC San Diego (22-10) faces No. 6 Grand Canyon (22-8) at noon, and No. 2 Simon Fraser (23-5) meets No. 7 Northwest Nazarene (20-8) at 2:30 p.m. Those two winners meet in a semifinal noon, Monday, March 18.
Tickets for the regional tournament go on sale 11 a.m. Monday, March 11 and can be purchased by calling 360-650-2583. Reserved tickets, which go on sale Wednesday at 2 p.m., are $12. General admission is $8, and students, youth and seniors with ID are $5. Tickets are good all day for multiple-game dates.
The Vikings are led by a trio of seniors who all earned all-GNAC honors - center Britt Harris and guard Corinn Waltrip, who were both first-team selections; and forward Trishi Williams, a second-team pick.
Harris is averaging a team-high 14.2 points a game while shooting 59.8 percent (156-of-261) from the field, which ranks No.3 nationally in NCAA II. She also contributes 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting 75.2 percent (85-of-113) on free throws.
Waltrip is averaging 11.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 41.7 percent (60-of-144) on 3-pointers, which ranks sixth nationally.
Williams contributes 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds and leads the Vikings in assists (4.5) and steals (2.9).
Completing the starting lineup are junior forward Sarah Hill, who averages 6.1 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds; and sophomore guard Katie Colard, who contributes 7.9 points.
Academy of Art (23-8) reached the tournament by gaining the automatic berth of the Pacific West Conference, defeating Hawaii Pacific 75-49 in the tournament championship game, its ninth consecutive victory.
Senior guard Jordan Rogers leads the Urban Knights, who are making their first NCAA appearance, in scoring at 13.5 points a game. Senior forward Ariel Dale contributes 12.1 points and team-bests of 7.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
"We've played a lot of the teams in the region, but Academy of Art is one we haven't played," Dolfo said. "We don't know much about them. We'll starting watching video tonight, but we do know they're very hot right now, so it will be a great challenge."
All regional contests involving WWU can be heard live on KPUG Radio (1170 AM - www.kpug1170.com) with Doug Lange handling play-by-play and Mark Scholten providing (analyst) color commentary. A webcast and live stats are also available at www.wwuvikings.com.
Western previously hosted the West Regional in 2006, reaching the semifinals. The Vikings have reached the regional final twice - in 2000 and 2002 - winning the region in 2000 and eventually advancing to the national semifinals.
In 2012, the Vikings defeated Cal State Monterrey Bay, 65-58, before falling to UC San Diego in the semifinals, 81-66.
The 20-win season is the fourth straight for WWU, the 17th in Dolfo's 21 seasons as head coach, and the 31st in the 42-year history of the program.