Peacocke, Briggs lead standout freshman class for WWU

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 14, 2014 

Western Washington’s Taylor Peacocke battles for the ball with Central Washington’s Jasmine Parker on Thursday, Jan. 9, in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

There's little Carmen Dolfo hasn't seen in her 23 years at the helm of Western Washington University's women's basketball team.

She's seen 489 wins. She's seen two Final Four appearances and 21 playoff runs.

But despite all that - despite all the accolades and the countless young women she's coached - in the waning moments of the Vikings' 81-68 win over Northwest Nazarene University on Jan. 11, she presided over a lineup with four freshmen on the court. That, to her recollection, was something novel - four freshman all playing prominent roles in her regular rotation.

Of course certain circumstances have factored into that reality, with injuries and so forth, but the fact remains that Taylor Peacocke, Tia Briggs, Kiana Gandy and Rachel Albert aren't the average, run-of-the-mill freshmen.

The difference? No fear, Dolfo said.

"They haven't cowered away from it, or haven't been like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm a freshman,'" she said. "I think they have all embraced it and been excited about it, and not used the excuse of they're freshmen."

Their skill sets are different - vastly different. All of which will be utilized as WWU embarks on its final four conference games of the regular season starting with Western Oregon University at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, at Sam Carver Gymnasium. The Vikings currently sit in a tie for second with Simon Fraser in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings, one game behind Montana State University-Billings.

All, at one point or another, have had their time in the sun. Some for doing the small things right like making the correct rotation on defense, while others have put on dazzling spectacles on offense.

Peacocke falls into the latter, and none of her performances were more compelling than what she did in the final 7:50 against the University of Alaska-Anchorage on Jan. 23.

Everything she is - quick, explosive, elusive - showed as the 5-foot-9 guard scored 13 late points to dig the Vikings out of a 58-52 hole and earn a 76-70 conference victory.

"I come in and create and make things happen not just for myself, but for other people," Peacocke said. "I kind of come in and create a spark."

A confidence emanates from the guard, Dolfo said, in such a way on offense that she can take games over in a flash, just as she did against the Seawolves and later when she scored a season-high 19 points against Western Oregon in 28 minutes.

"She's explosive and I think she doesn't have fear," Dolfo said. "I think she is spunky and athletic, and she is competitive and works hard. ... Those things have all added to the fact that she has had a big impact on our season."

And then there's Briggs.

The 6-foot-1 post didn't expect to play much this season, she admitted, but after junior post Kayla Bernsen suffered a season-ending ACL tear before the year began, Dolfo was forced to re-evaluate her rotation.

She needed Briggs' size, both on offense and defense. And what she's seen in return is a natural scorer, so much so that WWU's offense has at times ran through her in the low post.

"She is so physically strong," Dolfo said of Briggs. "I don't think she knows her own strength. She's got good post moves, and her defense has really improved and again, she's not afraid in the pressure situations. She wants the ball."

Against Central Washington University on Feb. 8, Dolfo and the Vikings were obliged to give it to her.

Briggs put on an efficiency clinic, scoring 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting. She's been in double figures in five of the past seven games, overcoming what Dolfo said is the biggest challenge for all freshmen: consistency.

"I've just become a smarter player," Briggs said. "Basketball is a physical sport, and you can have a good shot, play hard on defense and stuff like that, (but) even if you're not the fastest player on the court on defense, if you're a smart player, it doesn't really matter."

It's been a process for her on defense, boxing out and keeping more experienced posts off the offensive glass. The Vikings have had their troubles as a team in that regard, with Briggs being no exception, Dolfo said.

Gandy's role is less prominent than both Peacocke's and Briggs', but her talent has warranted time at the small forward position. She's played in all 22 games this season, averaging 4.5 points per game in 13.4 minutes of action.

"We know she can take the ball to the basket," Dolfo said. "A lot of it is that she can attack the hoop. ... I think she has moments on defense - they all do - but I think, you know, freshmen striving for that consistent defense."

Albert, a graduate of Sehome, rounds out the group, spelling minutes for the posts when foul trouble arises. She's played in all but one game this season, with her season high of nine points coming early against Texas Woman's on Dec. 20.

The group is young and talented, Dolfo said, but not without its spots. Defensively, they have all had their moments of forgetting assignments or waiting for others to take command. That's to be expected, and Briggs navigates her freshman season by simply asking, "Am I doing OK? Is this normal for a freshman? So, so? Yeah?"

Peacocke offered a laugh, agreeing with her teammate.

"I had no idea what to expect," she said. "It's going well, though."

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

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