Sharpshooting Colard settles into new role for WWU

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 6, 2014 

Western Washington University's Katie Colard takes a shot guarded by two Central defenders as WWWU beat Central Washington University 71-64 in a women's basketball game at Carver Gymnasium on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

When the Western Washington University women's basketball team opened the 2013-2014 season, it had a big question to answer: Who would step up and lead the Vikings?

In the inside, WWU had lost 2013 West Region Player of the Year Britt Harris, but got a big lift from senior center Sarah Hill. She has six double-doubles this season, with four in the Vikings' last five games, and leads the team in rebounding with a 9.0 rebounds per game average.

With no seniors at the guard position to take over for Corinn Waltrip, the Most Outstanding Player at the 2013 West Regional of the Division-II National Championship, junior Katie Colard took it upon herself to elevate her play.

"I was so used to being a role player last year and our team needed someone to step up," Colard said in a phone interview.

After mostly sitting on the perimeter and trying to get open for 3-pointers last year, Colard added a new element to her game to help her score - driving to the hoop.

"This year teams knew what I wanted to do, so Carm (WWU coach Carmen Dolfo) told me I should start driving," Colard said. "Having both aspects has really improved up my game."

Thanks in part to the emergence of Colard and big contributions from the team as a whole, WWU finished the Great Northwest Athletic Conference portion of its season 13-5, with a 17-9 overall record. WWU took the No. 2 seed and a first round bye to the GNAC Tournament, and will face host Saint Martin's University on Friday, March 7, at 5:15 p.m.

The changes Colard worked on became evident in a Jan. 2 game against Seattle Pacific University when Colard led the Vikings with 25 points in the 84-77 win, their highest point total from an individual player up to that point. Dolfo called that game the "turning point" for Colard and WWU.

WWU had floundered a bit as the season opened, going just 3-5 to start the season while struggling to adjust to life after Waltrip and Harris. After Colard's big night against the Falcons, the Vikings went 12-4 as she led the team in scoring seven more times.

That included a career-high of 26 points against Northwest Nazarene University on Feb. 6, in Nampa, Idaho. Against the Crusaders' 2-3 zone, Colard found a soft spot and tied a WWU record for 3-pointers made with eight.

"We knew they played a 2-3 zone and we knew if we broke the defense down we could get open shots," Colard said. "They were worried about inside and that opened stuff up for me and the other 3-point shooters."

Along with improving her drive to the hoop, Dolfo worked with Colard on becoming a more vocal leader. At first Colard was hesitant, but Dolfo had her be louder one practice at a time and it caught on, Colard said.

"She's just really smart on the court," Dolfo said. "She understands the game and is able to communicate that. She's positive and that leads to her on-court leadership."

Dolfo also had Colard improve her speed to help her attack the basket. Colard's strength helped develop the quickness she has been working on, Dolfo said.

"A lot of it has to do with knowing I have to be aggressive," Colard said. "Being an upperclassman, I have leeway to make a mistake and not get subbed out to talk with the coaches about it. I can make a mistake and make up for it on defense."

But in driving to the hoop more, Colard hasn't completely abandoned sharpshooting from beyond the arc. She is currently ranked No. 13 in Division-II for 3-point shots made, with 2.8 per game. Dolfo also praised her court vision on the defensive end.

"She thinks ahead about what could happen and plays good team defense," Dolfo said. "She has that court sense of recognizing what could happen instead of just reacting to what does happen."

The meeting between WWU and Saint Martin's will be the third of the season, and Colard isn't expecting the Saints to be surprised if she passes up a shot from outside to drive the lane.

"Some of those players I've been playing since high school," she said. "I feel like we all know each other at this point. In that gym it comes down to who plays the best defense."

Reach Alex Peterson at alex.peterson@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2285.

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