After winning six of its final seven games of the regular season, the Western Washington University women’s basketball team has locked up the third seed in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament, set to begin Wednesday, March 4, at 4:15 p.m. PST in Billings, Mont.
Western senior point guard Jenni White has been a player who has provided the team with the leadership and spark needed during the tail end of the season and going into post-season play. In the last seven games of the regular season, White scored at least 10 points in four, helping the Vikings gain momentum en route to the conference tournament.
The conference office has noticed White’s impact for Western as well, selecting her as a first-team GNAC all-star for the 2014-15 season.
“This year being a senior, I’ve had to step up a little more in my scoring. But I feel like I’ve had way more confidence that if coach (Carmen Dolfo) needs me to, I feel comfortable stepping up,” White said in a phone interview.
In her senior year, White has averaged 10.9 points per game and leads the Vikings with 3.6 assists per game and 2.4 steals per game.
White attributes her success to the teammates around her, noting the balance the team has this year.
“We have great players,” she said, “I look to get them open as well for that balance of when I need to step up or when I need to get my teammates the ball.”
As one of four seniors on the team, White has seen her leadership improve throughout the season, especially on the basketball court in games, as well as practice.
“I’ve stepped up in being that vocal leader. It’s something I’ve struggled with,” White said. “I lead more by example rather than being a vocal leader. Just running the offense and being the floor leader in games.”
After what White called a slow start to the season, the team has picked up its defensive intensity and improved on the offensive end, White said.
“It has led to how we’re clicking right now going into our game on Wednesday,” she said.
The Vikings, who have won the last two GNAC tournaments, seem to be clicking at the right time. Heading into this year’s tournament, Western will be looking toward White, the Most Valuable Player of the 2014 GNAC Tournament to continue the momentum that has been established in the past seven games.
In order to qualify for the NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament, the Vikings will need to win a third straight GNAC championship.
Western (19-8 overall, 13-5 GNAC) will face sixth-seed Central Washington University (12-14 overall, 7-11 GNAC) in its first-round game, sweeping the season series against Central. The Vikings won the first game in Ellensburg by a 76-68 score on Jan. 8 and won by a score of 62-61 with a last-second shot on Feb. 7 in Bellingham.
“We’ve played Central in two close games. They’re a physical team that battles for the 40 minutes,” White said.
Going into its opening game Wednesday, White said the team needs to be aggressive offensively and use all the threats the team has.
With the run the Vikings have been on going into the postseason and going into the conference tournament as defending champions, White said the team is ready for the challenge.
“Right now we’re super positive about it,” she said. “We’ve played every team tough and the top two teams in extremely close games.”
One of those top two teams happens to be the No. 1 nationally ranked University of Alaska-Anchorage, the No. 1 seed in the GNAC tournament.
“We just have to take it one step at a time. We have the depth and talent to do it,” White said. “Just have to take care of business and play our best basketball right now.”