Western Washington University's women's basketball team opens play in the NCAA Division II West Regional on Friday, March 14, against Simon Fraser University in Pomona, Calif. For WWU to find success against the Clan and later in the tournament, it will have to do something that has eluded the Vikings at times this season: Play consistently.
"We've been really up and down," WWU forward Sydney Donaldson said in a phone interview. "I think our big emphasis is putting a whole game together. We've played some good halves, we just need to put it together."
One area the Vikings have been particularly inconsistent is on the boards. Low rebounding totals hurt WWU in an early January loss to Montana State University-Billings when it only put up 19 rebounds. The Vikings struggled again the next game versus Central Washington University when they were outrebounded 39-31, but a 21-point outburst from Donaldson helped them overcome the deficiency and pull off a close win.
The following game, WWU outrebounded then-No. 18 Northwest Nazarene University 42-33 in an 81-68 upset. Donaldson grabbed 15 rebounds against the Crusaders after having just 12 combined in the previous two games.
"It just shows how inconsistent rebounding can be," Donaldson said. "Consistency has been a struggle for me; the biggest thing is staying in attack mode. We were so mad about the Billings game that I was determined and focused. It was a big turning point."
The Vikings knew they would need younger players to step up and contribute in rebounding after 2013 West Region Most Outstanding Player Brit Harris graduated. Harris led WWU with 202 total rebounds, good for a 6.1 rebounds per game average. Harris' total was just behind Sarah Hill's 2012-2013 total of 204 rebounds.
WWU was no doubt expecting a big contribution this year from 6-foot-3 center Kayla Bernsen, but she went down with a knee injury at a summer tournament and was ruled out for the entire season. The load of rebounding then fell on the shoulders of Hill, Donaldson and forward Tia Briggs.
"Before the season the coaches told us, 'You guys are our rebounders,'" Donaldson said.
Hill hasn't missed a beat in rebounding, averaging 8.9 rebounds per game with a total of 249 rebounds. Donaldson has also stepped up, grabbing 182 rebounds for a 6.5 rebounds per game average, an increase of 2.3 rebounds per game from last season.
Briggs has become the first forward/center to sub into a game, and has contributed on the boards as well. Playing in all 28 games, the 6-foot-1 Briggs has grabbed 102 rebounds for a 3.5 rebounds per game average to complement her 9.5 points per game average.
The surprise contributor in rebounding has been guard/forward Taylor Peacocke. Standing just 5-foot-9, she doesn't fit the typical profile of a prolific rebounder. She's overcome her height to contribute 3.5 rebounds per game, for a total of 101 on the season to accompany her 11.0 points per game average.
"Taylor is our one or two, and sometimes a three," Donaldson said of Peacocke's role. "She proves it doesn't matter the size of the player in rebounding."
The Vikings' goal on the glass has been to keep their opponent to less than 10 offensive rebounds per game, Donaldson said. It hasn't happened every game, but when it has WWU has an edge in controlling the game. To repeat as West Regional Champions, the Vikings know they have to be more consistent rebounding and in every area of the game.
"When it comes down to it, boards are about who wants the ball the most," Donaldson said.