Wenatchee Valley claims fourth NWAC Title in 74-70 win over Umpqua
By Nick Vitalis for NWAC
EVERETT, WA -- The old adage was never truer Sunday afternoon, as Wenatchee Valley’s top-ranked defense neutralized Umpqua’s second-ranked offense on the way to a 74-70 victory in the NWAC women’s basketball championship game.
Sophomore Ashlynn Burgess won the tournament MVP, and leaves Wenatchee Valley as the all-time leading scorer.
That adage, of course, being that defense wins championship. But the Wenatchee Valley Knight’s head coach Rachel Goetz would like to add something to it.
“Defense and free throws [win championships],” she said with a laugh.
Concerning free throws, the Knights sank four more than Umpqua in six more opportunities. Four extra free-throws in a four-point game certainly holds relevance.
Their defense was suffocating, especially on the perimeter, forcing the Riverhawks into the paint to score their points.
Late in the season, Goetz said, maintaining a top-ranked defense is all about preparation.
“That [defense] comes because our girls are religious about learning their scouting reports, religious about watching film, and religious about knowing personnel,” Goetz said.
“Of course we talk about intensity and positioning, but that stuff comes way back in October and November. Now it’s just about executing our game plan.”
That game plan led Wenatchee Valley to their fourth title in school history, while handing the Umpqua Riverhawks their second championship loss in as many years.
The Knights scored first and allowed the Riverhawks just one lead all game. Despite that, it was a tightly contested game. The Riverhawks managed to repeatedly claw their way to back within a score. Each time, though, the Knights pushed back.
Wenatchee Valley’s defense held three of Umpqua’s starters scoreless through the first half, forcing them to lean on sophomore Taylor Stricklin and freshman Darian Mitchell. The two combined for 45 points by the end of the game, 21 from Stricklin and 24 from Mitchell, who ended as the game’s top scorer.
Wenatchee had a torrid second quarter, scoring 28 points while holding Umpqua to 20. Freshman Cariann Kunkel scored 14 of those points and finished the game as the team leader in points (22) and game leader in rebounds (12).
That strong second quarter gave the Knights an eight-point lead going into the second half. Riverhawks freshman point guard Cielo Gonzalez took over and led Umqpua on the floor, garnering 11 of her 15 points in the second half, distributing the ball well and playing hard defense.
The result was Wenatchee finding themselves with their backs against the wall, as Umpqua mounted a furious charge. They tied the game three times in the last five minutes yet were unable to find the go-ahead shot with multiple opportunities.
Wenatchee Valley buckled down and came back to their game plan, Goetz said.
“We talked about drawing fouls, executing our offense, and getting stops by rebounding.
In front of a hushed gym, freshman guard Chasity Spady sank the final four free throws to put them up 74-70 and seal the game. Spady was awarded the tournament’s most inspirational player and finished with 19 points.
Burgess had just two words to describe Spady.
“She is clutch money!” Burgess said, holding her portion of the cut-down net.
More than anything, Burgess said, their team chemistry held them together through the late challenge by Umpqua and through their season.
“We’re a family, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. We’ve grown so much together,” Burgess said.
Goetz added that Burgess had a big part as well.
“She’s amazing. Hands down, she led her team to this.”
MVP - Ashlynn Burgess, Wenatchee Valley
Most Inspirational - Chasity Spady, Wenatchee Valley
Cariann Kunkel, Wenatchee Valley
Chasity Spady, Wenatchee Valley
Taylor Stricklin, Umpqua
Darian Mitchell, Umpqua
Kylie Guelsdorf, Lane
Ashley Peralta, Wenatchee Valley
Cielo Gonzalez, Umpqua
Grace Campbell, Umpqua
Kalina Rojas, Lane
Leah Dougherty, Big Bend