BELLINGHAM - Western Washington University women's basketball coach Carmen Dolfo's voice sounded ... well, like you'd expect a head coach's voice to sound after coaching three postseason games in four days.
Her star senior guard Corinn Waltrip wore the nylon net she and her teammates had just cut down from the West rim at Sam Carver Gymnasium around her neck like a badge of honor.
The Viking women, who've heard so much about the men's national championship from a season ago, now will get a chance to go and play for their own.
Spurred by a 29-point scoring effort from Waltrip, a rotation of physical posts on GNAC Player of the Year Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and a big contribution from its bench, Western won the NCAA Division II West Regional title with 75-58 victory over Simon Fraser Tuesday, March 19.
"It's unreal," a beaming Waltrip said. "We've been working so hard for this our entire careers and this entire year. As Carm says, it's just icing on the cake. We've had a great season, and every win from here on out is icing on the cake, and we can hang our hats on that."
The win marks Western's second women's regional title in three trips to the regional game. The Vikings (28-3) next will face Nova Southeastern (23-8) in a 4 p.m. national quarterfinal on Tuesday, March 26, in San Antonio, Texas.
As hard as it may seem, the Vikings can in some way thank renewed rival Simon Fraser (25-6) for getting them to this point, as a 74-59 loss on Feb. 9 in Burnaby, B.C., may have been the turning point in Western's season.
"We've had a few turning points, but I think our biggest turning point was up at Simon Fraser when they kicked our butts up there," Dolfo said. "The seniors came to my house late that Sunday night, and we just sat down and talked - talked about the things we needed to change, and they all bought into it and they all stepped forward and really put in the effort to make some significant changes. I felt from then on, things really started to roll for us."
Western has won 11 straight since then, claimed GNAC regular-season and tournament titles and can now add a regional crown to what they've accomplished since then.
But early on Tuesday, it looked like the Clan might have another tough lesson for the Vikings.
Raincock-Ekunwe was simply dominant, scoring 16 points in the game's first 16 minutes.
It didn't seem to matter who WWU put on her and they tried nearly every big body they had on the roster, from Sarah Hill, to Britt Harris to Kayla Bernsen nobody could slow up the athletic 6-foot-2 post, who repeatedly got the ball in the low post and turned it into lay-up after lay-up, helping Simon Fraser jump out to a 29-23 lead with 3:46 to play in the first half.
"She's always a tough player to go up against," Harris said of Raincock-Ekunwe. "She's great and super athletic and has great moves around the basket. So it's tough going up against her. We just kept trying to rotate people on her and keeping fresh legs and pushing her out a little bit. She's a great player, so it was difficult."
But it eventually began to pay dividends in a big way, as Western's fresh bodies eventually seemed to wear Raincock-Ekunwe down.
In fact after the first 16 minutes, she scored only three points the rest of the way.
"I think Nayo got a little fatigued," Simon Fraser coach Bruce Langerford said. "They were very physical with her, and I think that kind of took her out of the game."
While Simon Fraser's star started to fade, one of Western's was just starting to burn hotter and hotter.
Waltrip drained a 3-pointer after a steal by Trishi Williams to cut Western's deficit to 29-26 with 2:35 to play in the half.
Sydney Donaldson's nice up-and-under move on Western's next possession opened a lane for a lay-up, before Waltrip got a steal and lay-up with 1:13 to play in the half to knot the score at 30.
After another Vikings defensive stop, Waltrip drove the lane for another lay-up and a 32-30 Vikings lead at the half.
"I thought that was the turning point for us, was the last three or five minutes of the first half," Dolfo said. "I felt we finally picked up our defense and got aggressive, and I think we finally reminded ourselves that's what we needed to do, and that's kind of our bread and butter all year. I think the second half we did the same thing, and when we play that way defensively, offensively, things flow for us."
After trading the lead in the first four minutes of the second half, Western took control of the game with a 10-0 spurt that was started by another nice lay-up from Donaldson, who came off the bench to score eight points and dish out five assists, as she, Jenni White and Bernsen all gave Western big lifts.
"I just think as a goal as a bench, we want to come in and change the pace of the game," Donaldson said. "I try to recognize something that's missing and be aggressive."
The Vikings continued their aggressive nature, as Harris converted a 3-point play, White hit a 3-pointer and Donaldson nailed a 15-foot jumper to give WWU a 51-40 lead with 11:30 to play.
The Clan closed to within nine on Raincock-Ekunwe's only points of the second half, which came from the free throw line, but Waltrip answered with a jumper and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to put the Vikings up 56-42.
"I think I just got some open looks, and I was able to knock them down tonight," Waltrip said. "My teammates started looking for me and trying to get me open."
Waltrip, who became the 29th player in WWU history to surpass 1,000 career points one night earlier, finished the night 5 for 9 from 3-point range and 10 for 15 overall. She was selected the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament.
Harris, who finished with 11 points despite wearing a sleeve on her right knee after getting tangled up on an inbounds play in the first, joined her on the first team, along with Raincock-Ekunwe, Grand Canyon's Judy Jones and Cal State Monterrey Bay's Brittani Jefferson.
Williams also scored 11 points for Western, as she, Harris and Waltrip scored in double figures all three games of the regional.
"It's a great feeling to go out, knowing we're in the top eight in the country," Waltrip said.
But the Vikings would like a little more "icing" than that, as they set their sights on Nova Southeastern.
"I knew that's who we would play next, but that's all," Dolfo said. "I don't know when we go. We've just been so focused on this and trying to stay one step at a time and not get ahead of ourselves. I have absolutely no idea what's next, but I'm excited."
WESTERN WASHINGTON 75, SIMON FRASER 58
SIMON FRASER (25-6)
Raincock-Ekunwe,Nayo 6-10 7-10 19; Wyman,Carla 4-7 2-4 10; Chambers,Erin 2-9 2-2 8; Collins,Kristina 2-13 0-0 6; Lowen,Katie 3-5 0-0 6; Reist,Chelsea 3-4 0-0 6; Petit,Marie-Line 1-3 0-0 2; Van Laare,Kia 0-1 1-2 1; Wilson,Meg 0-0 0-0 0; Langmead,Rebecca 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-52 12-18 58.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (28-3)
Waltrip,Corinn 10-15 4-4 29; Williams,Trishi 3-7 5-6 11; Harris,Britt 5-7 1-1 11; Donaldson,Sydney 4-7 0-0 8; White,Jenni 2-6 2-2 8; Bernsen,Kayla 1-1 1-2 3; Colard,Katie 1-4 0-0 3; Hill,Sarah 0-1 2-2 2; Hathaway,Aleisha 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-48 15-17 75.
Half: WWU 32, SF 30
3-point goals--Simon Fraser 4-17 (Collins,Kristina 2-8; Chambers,Erin 2-5; Lowen,Katie 0-1; Petit,Marie-Line 0-2; Van Laare,Kia 0-1), Western Washington 8-16 (Waltrip,Corinn 5-9; White,Jenni 2-4; Colard,Katie 1-3). Fouled out--Simon Fraser-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds-Simon Fraser 26 (Raincock-Ekunwe,Nayo 8), Western Washington 29 (Williams,Trishi 7). Assists--Simon Fraser 11 (Chambers,Erin 4), Western Washington 19 (Donaldson,Sydney 5). Total fouls--Simon Fraser 15, Western Washington 13. Technical fouls--Simon Fraser-None, Western Washington-None. A-1129
WEST REGION CHAMPIONS
Since 1998-99 season, when Western joined NCAA Division II
1999: Montana State-Billings
2000: Western Washington
2001: Cal Poly Pomona
2002: Cal Poly Pomona
2003: Cal State Bakersfield
2004: Seattle Pacific
2005: Seattle Pacific
2006: Chico State
2007: UC San Diego
2008: Alaska Anchorage
2009: Alaska Anchorage
2010: Seattle Pacific
2011: Cal Poly Pomona
2012: Alaska Anchorage
2013: Western Washington
WWU IN WEST REGIONAL
1999: Advanced to semifinals
2000: Won regional title
2001: Advanced to semifinals
2002: Advanced to final
2003: Lost in first round
2004: Advanced to semifinals
2005: Advanced to semifinals
2006: Advanced to semifinals
2007: Lost in first round
2009: Lost in first round
2010: Lost in first round
2011: Lost in first round
2012: Advanced to semifinals
2013: Won regional title
At San Antonio, Texas
Augustana (S.D.) vs. Clayton State, 11 a.m.
Dowling vs. Colorado Mesa, 3:30 p.m.
Nova Southeastern vs. WWU, 5 p.m.
Gannon vs. Ashland, 7:30 p.m.
*All times Pacific Daylight
Nov. 16 Azusa Pacific W 73-49
Nov. 17 UC San Diego W 69-51
Nov. 23 Carroll W 79-52
Nov. 24 Evergreen W 66-54
Nov. 29 Western Oregon* W 77-54
Dec. 1 Saint Martin's* W 75-51
Dec. 7 at Chico State L 75-74
Dec. 8 Sonoma State L 68-63
Dec. 18 Washburn W 64-62
Dec. 19 Grand Canyon W 72-67, OT
Jan. 3 at Alaska Anchorage* W 70-60
Jan. 5 at Alaska Fairbanks* W 87-59
Jan. 12 Simon Fraser W 59-57
Jan. 17 Seattle Pacific W 61-44
Jan. 19 Montana State-Billings W 78-76
Jan. 24 at Central Washington* W 79-73
Jan. 26 at Northwest Nazarene* W 70-66
Jan. 31 Alaska Fairbanks* W 77-48
Feb. 2 Alaska Anchroage* W 83-72
Feb. 9 at Simon Fraser* L 74-59
Feb. 14 at Montana State Billings* W 71-54
Feb. 16 at Seattle Pacific* W 80-76, OT
Feb. 21 Northwest Nazrene* W 81-51
Feb. 23 Central Washington W 81-56
Feb. 28 at Saint Martin's* W 57-48
March 2 at Western Oregon* W 78-54
March 8 Northwest Nazarene W 60-49
March 9 Simon Fraser W 60-40
March 16 Academy of Art W 70-50
March 18 Cal State Monterrey Bay W 71-63
March 19 Simon Fraser W 75-58
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2286.