Kennewick, Wash. — By winning last year’s NWAACC Championship, their fifth in the past 10 years, the Titans women’s basketball team set the bar incredibly high for themselves.
Lane entered this season with almost an entirely new roster. However, the goal remained the same.
“We have expectations of winning the South Region and competing for an NWAACC title every year. That’s our expectation,” Lane head coach Greg Sheley said. “Now, being able to live up to those are another thing.”
The Titans’ hopes of repeating as champions were ended after a loss to Columbia Basin Community College in the NWAACC tournament semifinals.
Despite coming up short in their pursuit of another title, the fact that the Titans made it as far as they did is an accomplishment in itself.
Lane entered the tournament without starting sophomore guard Tori Mahaffie, who was sidelined with a knee injury, leaving the Titans with a starting lineup that featured four freshmen.
Their seven leading scorers were all freshmen, and only sophomore guard Haley Winter played in last year’s tournament.
“I’m not disapointed at all,” freshman point guard and leading scorer Shelby Snook said. “I’m very proud of how far my team got, especially after losing Tori.”
The Titans finished the season 24-8 overall, with a fourth-place finish at the NWAACC tournament. It was their eighth trip to the final four in the past 10 years.
“We knew we had our work cut out for us with so many young women trying to figure out how to play the college game,” Sheley said. “I’m very proud of the way we finished. I don’t think the last game was (truly) representative of what we were.”
Game 1— March 1: 71-68 win vs. Highline Community College Thunderbirds
Lane picked up its first victory on the tournament’s opening day with a 71-68 win over the Highline Community College Thunderbirds, the third seed out of the NWAACC West region.
Both teams showed some early-tournament jitters. They combined for 18 turnovers and shot a combined 4-of-24 in the first half.
The Titans ended the half with a 31-30 lead and the Thunderbirds would continue to remain on their trail for the remainder of the game.
Titans freshman Heidi Walchi knocked down three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give the Titans a 56-45 lead with 11:30 remaining.
However, Highline rallied back and cut the lead to as little as four after Thunderbird guard Allie Wethersby hit two free throws with 2:34 remaining.
On the next play, Lane Snook dribbled the length of the floor and converted an and-one layup to give the Titans a 67-60 lead.
Lane survived a free-throw battle for the game’s last two minutes and picked up its third win of the season over the Thunderbirds. Snook led the Titans with 31 points and seven rebounds, and Walchi scored 11 points and grabbed four boards.
“I’m feeling ecstatic,” Sheley said after the game. “I’m not even going to be critical. We found a way to win and that’s all you have to do at tournament time.”
Game 2 — March 2: 71-45 win vs. Community Colleges of Spokane Sasquatch
The Sasquatch, the fourth seed out of the East Region, upset top-ranked Bellevue Community College on day one to earn a spot in the quarterfinals against Lane.
Spokane went just 16-13 on the season, but featured one of the tournament’s top players and the NWAACC’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Riley Holsinger.
Holsinger showed how dangerous she was when she knocked down a deep three-pointer on the first play of the game.
However, Snook scored on the Titans’ next three possessions, and Lane jumped out to an 18-9 lead to start the game, due to aggressive play on the offensive end from Snook and freshman guard Niki Duncan. Duncan connected on three shots from beyond the arc in the first half.
The Titans took control of the game with a 17-3 run midway through the first half and entered halftime with a commanding 42-25 lead. Lane kept their foot on the gas to open the second half, and Spokane never got within 14 points of the Titans’ lead.
Snook led all scorers with 30 points, as well as 14 rebounds, and Lane used a tough zone defense to limit Holsinger to 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
“We wanted to make sure that everybody on the floor knew where she was at all times, so that if she got the ball, we were there,” Snook said. “She’s a great player.”
Duncan scored 17 points for the Titans, and freshman forward Marikah Wright pulled down 13 rebounds and chipped in eight points.
Game 3 — March 3: 87-65 loss vs. Columbia Basin Community College Hawks
The Titans knew they were in for a tough matchup when they faced off with the top-ranked Columbia Basin Community College Hawks, the champions of the East Region.
The Hawks finished the regular season with a 23-4 overall record, and with their main campus only eight miles from the Toyota Center, they were essentially playing a home game.
Snook opened the game with a spin move through the lane for an easy lay-in, and despite some sloppy early play, the Titans jumped out to a quick 13-3 lead just five minutes into the first half.
After a timeout, the Hawks connected on three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, and scored several more buckets off of turnovers. Before the Titans could blink, their lead had suddenly evaporated, and they found themselves trailing 17-16 midway through the first period.
“They shot the ball extremely well,” Sheley said. “We didn’t do a great job of recognizing which shooters to get out on.”
The Hawks turned up the pressure near the end of the first half. They double-teamed Snook on every inbound pass and forced the Titans to commit 11 turnovers, including five from Snook.
The Hawks ended the half with an 11-2 run, and the Titans limped into halftime, trailing 45-34.
Lane bounced back with a 7-0 run of its own to open the second half. Snook connected on layups on the Titans’ first two possessions, and Duncan knocked down a deep three on the next to bring the Titans within four.
However, the Hawks responded with a 14-4 run of their own, and from there, things started to unravel for the Titans. Columbia Basin extended its lead to 73-57 with nine minutes remaining, and the Titans never got any closer.
Columbia Basin’s bench players scored 58 points in the game, including a combined 16 from backup guards Lindsay Oswalt and Lacie French in the second half to help lead the Hawks to victory.
Snook led the Titans for the third consecutive game with 25 points, and Duncan added 11 points and four steals. French paced the Hawks with 20 points and 11 boards. Guard Kellie Ross also scored 20, while shooting 6-of-11 from three-point range.
“They clearly knocked down threes. They were a good team,” an emotional sophomore guard Jolene Chanco said. “It just didn’t fall for us today.”
Game 4 — March 4: 71-50 loss vs. Blue Mountain Community College Timberwolves
With third place on the line, the Titans faced Blue Mountain Community College on the tournament’s final day.
The Timberwolves finished third in the East Region during the regular season with a 19-8 record and picked up wins over Whatcom and Clark community colleges before losing to Umpqua Community College in the semifinals.
The Titans were worn down from the previous day’s loss, and it showed early in the game.
They turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions and quickly found themselves in a 12-4 hole.
Duncan knocked down a three at the 15:20 mark to end a four-minute scoreless drought for the Titans, but the Timberwolves responded with another 9-2 run, which carried them into a 42-27 halftime lead.
Nearly four minutes elapsed before the Titans scored their first second-half basket, and by that point, Blue Mountain had taken over the game with a commanding 51-29 lead.
The Timberwolves led by as much as 30 at one point, and by the second half, Sheley had emptied his bench in order to give the Titans sophomores some minutes in their final game.
“I’m really proud of my team, we played some of our best basketball at this tournament,” Snook said. “This last day was tough. We didn’t come out prepared to play. I take responsibility for that a little bit.”
Wright led the Titans with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Similar to the game before, the Titans’ struggles started with poor long-range shooting. They shot 3-of-22 from beyond the arc.
“It was pretty tough, because it’s hard to find the motivation when you have your eye on the prize and then you realize that third place is the best you can do,” Duncan said. “It just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”