Dec 3, 2013

No. 1 Blue Mountain leads women's rankings

NWAACC Women's Basketball

It's a little strange to look at the women's power rankings and not see Lane, Yakima Valley or Walla Walla. It's early on, but this being a two-year league makes for incredibly quick turnarounds - and incredibly quick melt-downs. Lane looks a little unproven against quality opponents, and they may make a victorious return, but the south - as always - is strong. Really strong. Four teams are ranked, and five, maybe six teams could end up making the post season. Remember, though, it IS early, and all this is likely to change. These rankings are to establish a starting point, and are often far removed from the way things play out in the end. Be sure to check out Full Court Press, the bi-weekly publication meant to fill in the gaps between rankings.

And to get this out of the way, a quick update on the rankings' author: Joward (me) now works for a little newspaper in Columbia County, Oregon. High school athletics are the game (literally), but the rankings will continue throughout the season, most likely every two weeks to coincide with the coaches poll. No word on whether the NWAACC will pick up the rankings, but they should be posted around the same time.

Also, your responses, sports takes, arguments and venting are welcome here, as the original intent behind this system was to generate discussion. Your input is always greatly appreciated, and you can reach me in a number of different ways throughout the season by commenting on each story, sending me an email, or contacting me via twitter @JowardHoward.

The Coaches Poll, released 6 days after the Power Rankings on Dec. 9, are in italics below each team's ranking. Here are the top eight women's teams to start out 2012-13:

1. Blue Mountain (5-0)
No. 4 Coaches
Last Year: No. 7 Eastern 
Did not make the tournament

If the start for the Timberwolves is any reflection of how their season in the ever-difficult Eastern Region will play out, Blue Mountain will be a force come tournament-time. And unlike many teams in the early going, BMCC has faced a couple of solid squads. They knocked off No. 5 Chemeketa, No. 7 SW Oregon and No. 8 Whatcom, all in reasonably close, low-scoring games. They don't have any stats that really jump out except for one - they're holding opponents to an average of just over 56 points per contest. For reference, that is a lower scoring average than all but two of the teams in the league, and they're not doing it by jumping in the passing lanes or getting blocks.


2. Clackamas (5-0)
No. 2 Coaches
Last Year: No. 2 Southern Seed
NWAACC Runner-Up

Clackamas might be missing many of the pieces that carried them to the final last year, but they're off to a solid, if a little discombobulated start. After their 82-81 defeat of Umpqua (box) in the championship of their Thanksgiving tournament, coach Jim Martineau said it was "pretty good for a bunch of freshmen running around," but that might have been an understatement. They lead the league (by a whole lot) in three pointers made and attempted, are second in assists among teams who have played at least two games and are fourth in scoring. And unlike years past, they're not just a drive-and-dish team. They have a number of players who are strong in the post, namely sophomore Jasmine Gibbs-Brown, and are lethal from distance if they get started.

3. Columbia Basin (2-1)
No. 1 Coaches
Last Year: No. 2 Eastern Seed
Tournament: L-W-W-W

It's impossible to overlook the Hawks in any conversation, and it's partly their reputation that has them so high to begin with, but the real reason has almost everything to do with their roster. 11 sophomores. And if history serves us, that tends to bode well for coach Holden, especially when Columbia Basin is as balanced as they have been to start things out. They have three players averaging 10.25 points per game to lead the team, and it comes from vastly different places. 5-foot-nine center Alicia Jones does (literally) all her damage from inside the arc and at the free-throw line. Courtney Neilson shoots the highest percentage on the team, and Sierra Higheagle is their threat from deep. This team, like Blue Mountain, is another defensively minded group, and as they say, defense wins championships.


4. Umpqua (2-1)
No. 5 Coaches
Last Year: No. 5 Southern
Did not make the tournament

This Riverhawks team is fairly typical of the groups from Umpqua - really big with good post players, strong defense, lots of rebounds and blocks, and lots (and lots) of points. They frustrated Clackamas in their only loss of the young season, using their height and fight to go for the boards in the first half. Though Clackamas responded, the post-up talent of 6-foot-1 Leilani Morris has proven hard to deal with, and should be an offensive staple along with 5-11 freshman Ashli Payne. On the break, Payne is especially dangerous, and not just because of her speed. If Umpqua can hold things together, they should find themselves back in the tournament once again.


5. Chemeketa (4-1)
Unranked Coaches
Last Year: No. 3 Southern Seed
Tournament: W-W-L-L

Looking purely at the experience on this year's team, the No. 5 ranking seems a little premature. Buuuut then you notice the size the Storm are boasting this season. They have three girls who stand over 6 feet tall, and eight who are at least 5-foot-nine. They've been a bit run-and-gun in the last few years with a heavy reliance on the three-point shot, but with height like they have, they can simply overpower other teams in the post. In fact, they nearly knocked off No. 1 Blue Mountain while only hitting three treys, a feat which might have been unheard of in recent years. It was only a three point game, thanks to a bit of tough defense on the Timberwolves' Mar'Shay Moore, who got her average in points, but finished just 5-20 from the field. Even if the Storm don't rumble this year, they should be a strong contender next season, should all go well.


6. Bellevue (2-1)
No. 7 Coaches
No. 1 Northern Seed
Tournament: W-L-W-W

Four six-footers surely have the Bulldogs feeling good coming in after a season in which they were forced to re-group early on. They lost their leading scorer at the beginning of the season, and somehow managed to put the pieces together well enough to win the North and make it to the tournament  ranked in the top eight. Bellevue has seven sophomores on this team, including 6-foot-two center Alexis Berrysmith. As any basketball coach will tell you, "you can't coach size," and that may be Bellevue's biggest (really?) asset. There isn't much info on Bellevue after three games, but falling to No. 3 Columbia Basin isn't much to feel bad about, and knocking off the defending champs in the young season's first contest adds a big boost.


7. SW Oregon (5-2)
No. 8 Coaches
Last Year: No. 4 Southern Seed
Tournament: L-W-W-L
It might not help them in games that they've got players from eight different states and/or territories, but the Lakers have had an impressive start to this season's campaign. Their only two losses are to No. 1 Blue Mountain and No. 4 Umpqua, as is to be expected. Last year, the post-magic of Quinne Eharris made the Lakers a difficult match up. Now, the offense is funneled through sophomore guard Kayla Siri, whose 20.8 points, 7.3 boards, 3.6 assists and 3.7 steals make her one of the most dynamic and well rounded players in the entire league. It'll be interesting to watch and see how much support she can get, as the season rolls on, but with a threat like that, the Lakers will be dangerous on any given night.


8. Clark (2-1)
Unranked Coaches
Last Year: No. 2 Western Seed
Tournament: W-L-W-L
Many of the teams from the Western Region have been largely untested so far, and as the Penguins were able to hang tough with No. 1 Blue Mountain, they get the lone nod from the West this week. Things don't get easier from here, though. Clark will have to play at No. 2 Clackamas on Dec. 10, a trial by fire if ever there was one. The Penguins have their second and third leading scorers back from last years' 6th place team, and if they can stick with Clackamas, the schedule softens up before the Penguins host their crossover tournament on Dec. 20.


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