Bobbi Hazeltine figures she’s at least one step ahead of the coronavirus when it comes to recruiting next year’s women’s basketball class at Walla Walla Community College.
“We bring kids in early in September and October,” Hazeltine said of her team’s recruiting process. “We want to give them a taste of what our campus is like.
“And I will say that I have the best recruiter on the planet in Becky Tompkins,” Hazeltine said of one of her assistant coaches. “She is all over these kids really early and develops great relationships.”
So the lion’s share of her program’s recruiting efforts had already been accomplished when COVID-19 emerged in full force earlier this month and slammed the door in the faces of high-school, college and professional sports programs from sea to shining sea.
WWCC’s women’s basketball team was in Everett, Wash., the first week in March for the Northwest Athletic Conference Championships. As the Eastern Region champion the Warriors, on the basis of their 26-2 season record, were considered one of the favorites to claim the title.
But when it was learned that an Everett Community College student had tested positive for the coronavirus, the tournament was postponed and subsequently scheduled a week later in Oregon. The Warriors were in Albany awaiting their first-round game against Highline when the NWAC was forced to pull the plug and cancel the tournament altogether.
Thus five WWCC sophomores saw their Warrior basketball careers come to a premature end, leaving Hazeltine and her assistant coaches faced with the task of replacing four and possibly all five starters.
Holly Golenor, Sailor Liefke, Jessica Cheney and Tori Craner were sophomore starters throughout the season. And if freshman point guard Marissa Cortes decides to move on after one season in Walla Walla, the entire starting lineup will have to be replaced.
“That’s happened before, but it hasn’t happened very often,” Hazeltine said. “The last time was after our last championship season in 2018.”
Cortes’ possible decision to transfer after her freshman season centers on the fact that she has already earned her AA degree, Hazeltine said.
“We knew going in that we would probably only have her for a year,” Hazeltine said of Cortes, a Prosser, Wash., product who was the team’s leader in assists as a freshman at 3.8 per game and also averaged 5.9 points.
“She has her degree and she’s done about as much as she can do here,” Hazeltine said. “She’s trying to get into a nursing program and there’s a very good chance we won’t have her next year.’’
So chalk up point guard as one WWCC’s recruiting priorities as Hazeltine looks ahead to building next year’s team.
“I think we have gotten verbal commitments from some good quality guards,” Hazeltine said. “The only thing we will be lacking is experience. It’s always nice to come in with an experienced point guard, but it doesn’t look like we are going to have that.
“Clearly, we are going to be missing some guards, and clearly, we will be missing a dominant post player,” she said. “But once April 1 comes and we know who has committed to us, you will see that we have some kids who are pretty good.
“I think we are taking care of our needs.”
The returning players with the most experience are 6-footer DeeAnn White of Meridian, Idaho, and 5-8 shooting guard Dakota Patchen of Colton, Wash. White averaged 8.7 points and 4.9 rebounds as WWCC’s first post player off the bench, and Patchen scored 9.2 points per game in her reserve role and was the NWAC’s most accurate 3-point shooter at 45.5 percent.
In what might seem to be an unusual move on the surface, Hazeltine plans to use White in the backcourt next season.
“She is a girl we are going to be moving to guard,” the coach said. “She wants to play guard and she will play guard at the next level
“DeeAnn can shoot and she can handle the ball, but we had more of a need for her inside this season,” Hazeltine added. “She is excited at the prospect of playing guard.”
Assuming she joins Patchen in the backcourt, the Warriors could have one of the most prolific guard tandems in the conference.
“Dakota is a great shooter, but she is more than just a shooter,” Hazeltine said of Patchen. “We’re going to be working on her in the off season on expanding her game.”
Freshman posts Gabby O’Keefe and Kelsey Jensen and guard Regan Skinner are also expected to play expanded roles next season.
O’Keefe, a 5-10 product of Bishop Kelly High in Boise, averaged 12 minutes a game and contributed 3.1 points a game. Skinner, who is from Jordan Valley, Ore., was limited to 5.2 minutes of playing time per game and Jensen, a product of Gennesee, Idaho, saw just 2.6 minutes.
“Gabby is kind of ‘tweener who played behind some really good posts,” Hazeltine said of O’Keefe. “But she is one of the smartest players I have ever coached, and she’s a leader. She will play a lot next year.
“Regan Skinner was a victim of playing behind some really good players as well, and the same can be said of Kelsey (Jensen). They didn’t play a lot because we had so many good kids in front of them.”
Despite the coronavirus, Hazeltine expects most of her players to be on campus during spring quarter.
Most of our players have labs, and labs are in person here on campus,” Hazeltine said. “So our players will be coming back and either doing their classes (online) from their apartments, or going to the labs.”
And hopefully by the end of summer, the world will have returned to normal and Hazeltine and her players can begin preparations for the 2020-21 season come September.