As special as it is for The Evergreen State College women’s basketball team to host a playoff game for the first time in program history, first-year coach Jen Schooler said her squad also deserves the special tag.
“I can’t say that enough,” Schooler said.
The Geoducks, who open the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament against Oregon Tech on Tuesday, are winning with a roster of six players, a number that’s dwindled in recent weeks because of a late-season non-basketball injury to a reserve guard and expiring eligibility for one of the conference’s premiere players.
Remarkably, though, Evergreen still won eight of its final 11 games, secured the conference’s fourth seed and guaranteed itself a home playoff game, hosting the fifth-seeded Owls of Oregon Tech (20-10 overall, 9-9 CCC) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Costantino Recreation Center.
The top eight teams are in the single-elimination tournament, with the top four hosting first-round games on campus sites.
In Evergreen’s seven prior appearances in the conference tournament since the college began women’s basketball in 1997, all have been first-round road games as a fifth seed or lower.
The loss of Irene Moore (broken collarbone), who also doubles as a track athlete, cut the already-thin roster to six in early February.
But the team’s identity came when senior Brittany Gray’s eligibility expired following the January contest against Northwest, Schooler said. Instead of dwelling on losing a go-to player, the team revamped responsibilities instead. After a two-game losing skid, the Geoducks (16-9, 10-8) won five of their next six games and eight of their final 11.
The lack of players haven’t affected the Geoducks, only making them stronger. Schooled calls her squad “the Special Six.”
“At the end of the day,” Schooler said, “the game is played five on five. .... Not many programs can have six and have six being so talented.”
Seniors LaNiecia Weatherspoon and Sadee Jones rank first and second in the conference in scoring at 15 and 14.2 points per game, respectively. Jones also ranks first in the CCC in rebounds (10.2 per game) and has a conference-leading 13 double-doubles.
Schooler pointed to Natasha Trinidad, a River Ridge High graduate, who “really saved us” and as an X-factor the past five games (14.8 points per game, four games in double figures). On Feb. 6, Trinidad’s season average was 5.6 points and only scored in double figures in four games.
The winner of Tuesday’s game faces the winner of top-seeded Eastern Oregon and eighth-seeded Concordia. Eastern Oregon defeated Evergreen, 63-59, on Saturday in Olympia to conclude the regular season.
Schooler said the roster being reduced to six players has turned out to be a blessing of sorts. Having fewer players has helped the Geoducks focus.
“You don’t have today,” Schooler said, “and that’s what I believe in.”