Posted 11 months ago
By John Axtell
And all last year’s team accomplished was capture a Region IX championship and put together one of its finest seasons in recent years. And this year’s team is aiming to duplicate the success of last season and that trek will begin this weekend when they open the season Thursday through Saturday at the Colby Classic in Colby, Kan.
WNCC kicks off the season Thursday against Colby Community College. The Cougars will also take on Phoenix College and ABCD Prep in the Classic. After that, the Cougars will open up the home portion of their season with a contest on Wednesday against Central Wyoming College at 6 p.m.
WNCC coach Dave Harnish, who is beginning his 26th year as head coach, said he can feel the excitement in the air to get this season kicked off.
“It is definitely exciting for anyone to open the season and I think this team is excited to play,” he said. “Most of the team opened up last week and I know the kids are anxious to get the schedule started.
“This is an interesting group this year. We have three kids back and a transfer and it has been tough transition for the sophomores with the team that we had last year. With the type of season we had last year and the way we dominated teams last, we certainly will have a mark on our back and have to be ready to play each night. We have to be focused each night. It is not a situation where can learn as we go because teams will be after us after last year.”
Last season the Cougars finished 20-15 after having to forfeit 13 games the first semester. Otherwise, the Cougars would have had a sparkling 33-2 record. Harnish brought three players back from that Region IX championship team and said those three players are the nucleus of the team to start off with.
“At this time of year you always need your sophomores to step up. They have been there. They won a Region IX championship and they know how to play night in and night out,” Harnish said. “The key for us is for our sophomores to play well. We brought the sophomores back for a reason because they are hard-working kids and compete nightly. They have some skill but it is a matter of them getting the freshmen to play along with them. They need to carry us until the freshmen settle down and find their roles.”
Returning for the freshmen include Ashley Stevens of Bridgeport. Stevens was a starter a year ago and provides an inside force for the Cougars. Stevens is just one of the seven players that stand 5-10 or taller.
The other two players are guards Laurin Rivera, 5-4 of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Shalisa Moffit, 5-9 of Colorado Springs. Both Rivera and Moffit were key performers off the bench for WNCC last season.
The Cougars also have transfer sophomore Jasmine Davis, a 5-9 guard from Jamaica, N.Y., who played last season at Northwest Florida State College.
To add to the sophomores’ talent, the incoming freshmen have big holes to fill. Harnish said there is talent with the freshmen group and he is excited to see how they perform during the season.
The newcomers include Alliance graduate Liv Vogel, a 5-11 forward. Other players include Allyson Vasquez, 5-9 from Akron, Colo.; Lyndie Puckett, 5-10 of Erie, Colo.; Abi Lujan, 5-11 from Brighton, Colo.; Angela Vigil, 5-6 of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Liz Dogan, 6-2 of Izmir, Turkey; Sofia Softas-Nall, 5-5 of Greeley, Colo.; Kaylee Biddell, 6-3 of Port Vincent, Australia; and Lile Havili, 6-1 of Salt Lake City, Utah.
The one thing that Harnish can’t explain is how his team will be defensively, whether they will play better in a man-to-man or zone defense. One for sure, though, Harnish’s teams always are among the top defensive teams in the nation. Last season the Cougars were 11th in scoring points in the nation at 75.9 and while holding their opponents to just under 50 points a game.
“I really don’t know what we will have. I don’t know if we will be good in a man to man or a zone,” Harnish said. “I also don’t know if we will shoot the ball well or not. You have high hopes in practice, but you don’t know what your team will be like under the lights and playing the first road game on the other team’s home court. It is something we will learn as we go.”
Harnish said, however, that this team is capable of competing for another trip to nationals.
“Last year we competed hard on the floor and that is why we won 33 games and this year we don’t know if they will compete night in and night out until you start playing,” Harnish said. “But, like every year, Western Nebraska always has the talent to get to the national tournament. It is whether we are going to compete and do the little things that we need to be successful and win.”
7-9 – @ Colby Classic; 13 – Central Wyoming College; 15-16 — @ Otero Tournament; 19 — @ Casper College; 21-23 – Lady Cougar Tournament; 26 – State Fair College.
6-7 — @ Central Wyoming Tourney; 13 – Otero Junior College; 14 – Trinidad State Junior College.
10 – Northwest Kansas Technical College; 11 – McCook Community College; 14 – Northeastern Junior College; 18 — @ Lamar Community College; 21 – Casper College; 24 — @ Eastern Wyoming College; 28 – @ Colorado Christian J.V.; 31 — @ Northwest Kansas Technical College.
7 — @ Trinidad State Junior College; 8 @ Otero Junior College; 11 – Colorado Christian J.V.; 14 — @ McCook Community College; 18 – Eastern Wyoming College; 21 – Lamar Community College; 22 — @ Northeastern Junior College.