Speedy Bellingham girls' basketball clicking at right time

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 26, 2014 

Bellingham's Alyssa Porter, center, leaps and intercepts a pass as Nooksack Valley beat Bellingham 54-48 in a girls' basketball on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 in Nooksack Valley.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

The speed with which the Bellingham girls' basketball team has become a state contender couldn't be more fitting.

Three weeks ago the Red Raiders were wrapping up a regular season with a sub-.500 conference record, learning under their third coach in as many years.

They received the Northwest Conference's No. 4 seed in the district tournament, earning a first-round match with a top-seeded Cedarcrest club that beat Bellingham by 29 during last year's first round of district play.

Bellingham was facing an uphill battle.

But change happened. All of coach Ed Wissing's instruction began to manifest on the court. Bellingham started to play as one, and in a two-week stretch the Red Raiders adjusted their season's course as quick as their fast-paced, breakneck offensive style.

"I think it's starting to click for us, and we've been working so hard," said Bellingham guard and leading scorer Alyssa Porter. "I think coming in as the four seed, we are really trying to show people that we deserve to be here."

The Red Raiders made believers out of Cedarcrest. Anacortes, too. Bellingham beat the Red Wolves 65-63 and handed the Seahawks a 43-30 loss to clinch a regional berth last week.

Now Bellingham (13-11) is looking to stun No. 2-ranked W.F. West during the regional round of the Class 2A State Tournament at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Tumwater High School.

The two months it took Bellingham to mesh should come as no surprise given how many coaches the team's been through. Wissing said he believed his club's record would be more impressive if it were his second year coaching the team, or if Brad McKay - last year's girls' coach - were still with them.

"Anytime you have a new system, new expectations, new terminology, it's going to take a while to click," Wissing said. "There is no magic number when you know it's going to start working for your team. It took us a while, but I really felt things starting to come together at our senior night."

The result was a 58-36 win against Mount Baker, and Bellingham carried that momentum into its matchup against Cedarcrest - a game Wissing billed as the team's most complete effort.

It was a real turning point. Wissing called upon Red Raiders girls' soccer coach Mark Wright and longtime successful tennis coach Steve Chronister to address the team pregame.

Wissing said he's seen several parallels between the soccer team's season-ending success and the way his Red Raiders have been playing and wanted Wright to share his experience of how his team came together.

Junior guard Joelle Zamora said the speeches inspired Bellingham to play its best ball.

"They came in and gave us these speeches that just meant the world to us," she said.

It was the first postseason win for any of the Red Raiders, and they earned it in signature style, using their run-and-gun offense.

Bellingham owns one of the smallest teams in the NWC. No starter stands taller than 5-foot-9. So instead of going over the top to score, the Red Raiders simply run past opponents.

It helps having Porter, the defending 2A 100-meter state champion bringing the ball up the court.

"We have the fastest point guard out there, so we get it to her to break the presses and we bust our butts to try to get down and do our offense," Zamora said. "She really sets it up. She can get past anyone."

Fast is even embedded it Bellingham's team motto: Red Raider Fast. It's an acronym for ferocity, attitude, servant hood and team first.

Despite Porter's speed, Wissing said Bellingham's quick pace involves more than his senior leading scorer. It's a collective effort.

"Really up and down the lineup we have a team that's committed to getting out and getting going," he said. "And we don't cherry pick. We need everyone we can get to get rebounds. It takes a commitment from everybody."

It's that rebounding, as well as cherishing possessions, that's been at the heart of Bellingham's strong postseason play.

While Porter and Zamora (7.3 points per game) have played well, Wissing credited major contributions from Alicia Romero (4.0), Abigail McLellan (6.7) and Ashley Spink (6.9) for the team's success.

As in the Cedarcrest game, Bellingham knows it faces a tough task against District 4 powerhouse W.F. West (20-2). The Bearcats tout four girls 6-feet or taller. They start three, including 6-foot-3 Washington State University-bound Nike McClure, who leads W.F. West in scoring. Julie Spencer (6-2), Katie Hankins (6-0) and Tiana Parker (6-3) are the Bearcats next top point producers.

Bellingham is relishing the underdog role, though. It knows the pressure isn't on them to win.

"They have some pretty tall girls, but like Alyssa said, it's not just about the height," Zamora said. "It's about the speed, it's about the heart, it's about how hard you are willing to push yourself in the game."

The Red Raiders began the season with the goal of making the postseason. Then it became reaching regionals. Now Wissing and Bellingham hope a trip to the Yakima SunDome is on the horizon.

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2826. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.

UP NEXT

BELLINGHAM vs. W.F. WEST

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, March 1

Where: Tumwater High School

2013-14 BELLINGHAM GIRLS' BASKETBALL STATS

Player G Pts. Avg.

Jenn Paul 19 58 3.1

Ashley Spink 18 124 6.9

Abigail McLellan 18 120 6.7

Sarabeth Pemble 16 19 1.2

Alicia Romero 20 80 4.0

Chantelle Chen 21 22 1.0

Michaela Knutson 22 148 6.7

Joelle Zamora 22 161 7.3

Alyssa Porter 22 257 11.7

Carleen Syth 17 24 1.4

Kylie Clark 7 9 1.3

Emily Benson 9 19 2.1

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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