Yoga, psychology join Clippers’ game plan

Contributing writer

Savannah McGill did something last season for South Puget Sound Community College that no Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball player had ever done — grab a record 456 rebounds.

The 6-foot-1 River Ridge High School grad averaged 16.8 points per game to go with her 15.7 rebounds and was named the NWAC’s West Region freshman of the year. Two weeks after the 2015-16 season ended, she went to work in the weight room and got back on the court to improve her post moves.

But she says some of her most important preparations for the 2016-17 season, which begins with a game at 5 p.m. Friday at Clark College in Vancouver, are happening off the basketball court. Third-year Clippers coach Mike Moore has his players doing yoga and going through the Elite Mentality program devised by sports psychologist Brett Sandwick, an Olympia High School alum with a graduate degree from Florida State.

Over the summer, Moore organized seminars around a teamwide reading of “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable,” a book by basketball trainer Tim Grover.

“It’s a big positive,” says McGill of the off-court sessions. “I definitely like yoga. It’s not focused on basketball, more on personal stuff, but it brought our team together.”

Sandwick’s lessons resonate as well.

“It’s about developing the ability to control yourself mentally and physically,” said McGill, part of the SPSCC roster than includes nine South Sound products among its 13 players. “If you’ve never heard something before it can make you more aware. We can understand our actions and how we react to certain situations.”

A player in distress — because she’s been beaten defensively or isn’t hitting her shots — is said to be in a “red light” state and teammates are expected to help her return to a “green light” state.

Moore says he adopted the nonbasketball workouts after absorbing hard lessons as a coach.

“I learned you can have them in the gym five, six, even seven days a week, practicing, working out, lifting weights, but if they’re not mentally prepared to compete we’re not going to be successful,” he said.

Once a game starts, Moore says he feels his influence diminishing further.

“I’m not out on the court with them. I can only call so many timeouts,” he said. “If they’re able to help each other, it makes my job, the team’s job, easier.”

The Clippers, who broke a seven-year drought in playoff appearances after finishing 16-13 last season, are motivated to build on that.

“I’m pretty excited about this year,” said McGill.

She’ll be joined by returning players Sydney Sauls (9.5 points per game and 1.8 assists per game in 2015-2016), Taylor Sauls (8.0 ppg, 1.6 apg) — both from Black Hills — Rochester grads Kessa Demers and Keeli Demers along with Ali-Jo Vens from Tenino.

Newcomers include local products Mackenzie Bergquist, a first team All-Evco selection at Tumwater last season; Jordaan Hall, an honorable mention All-1A EvCo choice at Elma, and Yelm’s Arizona Clowes.