Jan 1, 2014

Clackamas, Columbia Basin lead rankings entering league play

NWAACC Women's Basketball

For those who balk at the smaller number of Western and Northern region teams to make the rankings, look at history for a second: Off the top of your head, can you name the last team NOT from the Southern or Eastern region to win an NWAACC title? Probably not, as it was in 1998 that Skagit Valley took the championship, one of three the Cardinals won in a period of six years. The South has taken eight titles since then, four of those belonging to Lane. Columbia Basin won three championships under Head Coach Cheryl Holden, who has never lost in the finals. All that taken into account, it's no surprise that the North and West have one representative each, with the heavyweight programs Clackamas, Columbia Basin and Lane dominating the top - the teams who combine for every championship since 2004 with the exception of 2010-11. In order to line up with the coaches poll, the rankings will also be released next week before switching back to the bi-weekly schedule.

An added note for those who missed the initial set - 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. The NWAACC has graciously agreed to package the Power Rankings along with the coaches polls on their website for review.

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 on Dec. 24, are in italics below each team's ranking. Here are the top eight women's teams to start out 2013:

1. Clackamas (11-2)
No. 3 Coaches
Last set: No. 2, No. 2 Coaches 

Before the "homer-haters" come out of the woodwork, I have a bit of scoreboard pointing to do. Just take a look at the Cougars' record over the last few weeks: They became the only NWAACC team to knock off No. 2 Columbia Basin, and their only losses are to No. 3 Blue Mountain 81-79 (box) in overtime and No. 4 Lane 76-70 (box). That's a record they can live with, and if they can get through the Southern Region close to unscathed (after two more bouts with Lane) it'll be difficult to NOT rank them at the top. Unlike Clackamas teams from the past two years, the Cougars don't sit in the top three in scoring, but Clackamas has held tightly to another standard of theirs - get in the passing lanes and score on the break. Balanced scoring and excellent ball movement thanks to Laci Effenberger's league-leading 6.62 assists per game make Clackamas a dangerous, dangerous group. And speaking of that tough southern region, they kick off league play with a zinger: a home game with Lane that could very well decide how the top of the rankings stacks up next week.


2. Columbia Basin (10-3)
No. 2 Coaches
Last set: No. 3, No. 1 coaches

During the year that the Hawks took their latest NWAACC title, their calling card was defense. It was commonplace to see them hold teams well under 50 points a game, often times into the 30s while only scoring 50 or 60 points themselves. This year is a bit of a different story, as CBC has broken the century mark thrice, and average second in the league in scoring with 82 points per game. They've won four in a row following a narrow 59-55 loss (box) to No. 1 Clackamas, but now they have to text their skills against the Eastern Region, which has taken the championship five of the past nine years - the other four all going to Lane. This year, the Hawks will have a serious challenger in Blue Mountain, who they will face in their second league game on Jan. 11.

3. Blue Mountain (11-2)
No. 4 Coaches
Last set: No.1, No. 4 Coaches

It might have been a bit of a hangover after the Timberwolves' thrilling victory over No. 1 Clackamas, but Blue Mountain has looked a little more beatable in the last few weeks. No. 6 Clark brought their nine-game winning streak to an end, knocking off Blue Mountain 77-72 (box) on Dec. 21, and the Timberwolves followed up with a 78-69 (box) loss to No. 5 Umpqua a few days later. That's a pair of losses to a pair of good teams, but the unbeatable aura has faded as BBCC enters Eastern Region play, but they have a solid advantage. Unlike most women's basketball teams, BBCC doesn't shoot much from beyond the arc. In fact, the Timberwolves only have one player who has attempted more than 100 three-pointers, and she has more than half of the team's total attempts. Instead, they focus on higher-percentage shots and getting to the free-throw line. Those numbers will benefit them once the tournament rolls around: three-pointers and fast-break buckets become harder to get when you're playing your fourth game in as many days.


4. Lane (13-3)
No. 5 Coaches
Last set: Unranked, No. 3 coaches

First in scoring, first in free-throws made and attempted, third in rebounding, second in blocks... the stats speak for themselves when it comes to Lane, which has nearly out-championship'ed the rest of the league (meaning the Eastern Region) in the last decade. Freshman forward Shelby Snook is second in the league in scoring with 20 ppg while having done nearly all her damage from the paint and the free throw line, but that's the tune that Lane plays. Remember Megan Shields from last year's title team? Yeah. Same story, and the Titans already have a win over No. 1 Clackamas, a gutsy 76-70 (box) victory over their Southern Region rival at the Pierce tournament in mid December. Lane might have been ranked first, but a confusing outing on Dec. 29 at the Chemeketa Classic saw the Titans get steamrolled by unranked Wenatchee Valley 93-75 (box), a game in which they put the Knights at the line and gave up 27 points, free of charge. It helps when the team hits 82% of their free-throws, but the sheer numbers could be a bit of a weakness against a ranked opponent.


5. Umpqua (9-4)
No. 8 Coaches
Last set: No. 4, No. 5 coaches
Nothing Umpqua did in the last few weeks - or all season, for that matter - has been a huge surprise. Their only losses have been to No. 1 Clackamas and No. 4 Lane, and they've beaten everybody they were expected to... with one exception. On Dec. 27, the Riverhawks beat then-No. 1 Blue Mountain 78-69 (box), handing the Timberwolves their second consecutive loss. A win like that more than pads Umpqua's resume, and several things stick out. Firstly, Umpqua is a big team, and their size goes a long way toward keeping a paint-oriented team like Blue Mountain from getting comfortable. They managed to push the Timberwolves out beyond the arc, where they were 6-25 overall, a stat that will lose you a fair number of games. The biggest stat, though, was that the Riverhawks were almost dead on with their averages. Basically, they played their game and were able to throw BMCC off at the same time. They also came within two points of knocking off Clackamas, so don't begin to count Umpqua out in the South.


6. Clark (8-2)
No. 6 Coaches
Last set: No. 8, No. 10 coaches

As impressive as the win for Umpqua over Blue Mountain was, they weren't the first to plow that ground. That honor goes to Clark, who knocked the Timberwolves from the unbeaten ranks on Dec. 21, extending their unbeaten run to six with a 77-72 (box) victory in the final of the Centralia Crossover. Perhaps the most impressive part of the win was the fact that they were down five at halftime, and outscored one of the league's best by ten in the second half, or that this is Clark's second close game (box) with Blue Mountain this season. In fact, the Penguin's only lop-sided loss was to No. 1 Clackamas, a sloppy, poor shooting night in which Clark went 2-13 from three-point range - that's 15% - and lost 68-53 (box). With that stat cleaned up, the Penguins have a chance at winning both the games they lost, and make a strong case to win the relatively weaker Western Region as they enter league play this week.


7. Big Bend (10-4)
Unranked Coaches
Last set: Unranked, Unranked coaches

Taking a look at the Eastern Region, things are tight. The top three teams are within 1.5 games of one another, and to hang with teams like Blue Mountain and Columbia Basin puts Big Bend in good company at 10-4 overall. The biggest anomaly on the Runnin' Viks' schedule is their loss to Highline, a game in which they allowed their opponent to shoot 50% from the field and gave up 23 points at the free throw line. And before the Highline, who narrowly missed the rankings, gets upset, look at BBCC's record: They hung tough (really tough) with No. 5 Umpqua before losing 69-62 (box) after being down by just two at halftime, and have a handful of 40-plus point victories under their belt. They're third in the league in scoring, have solid rebounding numbers and are among the league leaders in assists, but it remains to be seen how that will hold up once they get into region play. They won't be playing competition like Green River or S. Puget Sound for the rest of the year.


8. Skagit Valley (8-4)
No. 7 Coaches
Last set: Unranked, No. 12 Coaches

As the lone representative from the Northern Region, SVC won seven games in a row before dropping back-to-back contests on Dec. 29 and 30. The Cardinals are one of two teams from the struggling North to boast a winning record throughout the preseason, and were able to knock off No. 7 Big Bend before the Vikings got revenge on the second day of the crossover tournament at December's end. Skagit Valley also picked up a solid win over Chemeketa, holding off a Storm rally to prevail 58-54 (box) on Dec. 22. The Cardinals are lead by Sydney Brown, who is tied for second in the league for three-point percentage at 41% from beyond the arc, but SVC has gotten balanced scoring from their three leaders, all of which average between 10 and 11 points per game. They're also among the best in the league from the free-throw line, which, if you've read your way through the rankings so far, will win a team quite a few contests.



  1. Since I don't do twitter or facebook - I'll let you know on here. Love this blog ! - so glad it's on the NWAAC website. - Proud Mom of #5 CCC

  2. Glad to have readers from Ketchikan, Alaska!