Grays Harbor College picked the right time to find its winning formula to punch a return ticket to the NWAC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Winning six of their final seven games, the Chokers went from a struggling squad into a postseason qualifier inside the NWAC Western Region.
On Saturday, GHC (13-13 overall) will take on NWAC North champions Skagit Valley College at 8 p.m. at the Everett Arena for the opening round of the NWAC Tournament. This is the Chokers’ second straight appearance in the tournament and fifth overall as a program.
“We’re a little nervous, but we’re really excited,” freshman guard Alexia Thrower said. Thrower leads the team in scoring with an 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game average, good enough to earn NWAC Western Regional Freshman of the Year honors.
“I am blessed to be selected for the award,” said Thrower, who was also selected to the first-team all-region squad and all-defensive team. “I am also very proud of our team. We worked hard and came through at the end.”
In the beginning of February, GHC was 2-5 in the NWAC West and falling behind the rest of the region. The odds of making the postseason were getting longer — until the Chokers pulled together a pivotal 68-64 win over Tacoma at home.
The win over the Titans was just what the Chokers needed.
“We started rocky; we were struggling to click and jell together,” Thrower said. “But, in the second half of the season, we began to play less selfishly, got more comfortable with each other and got onto a roll. After the Tacoma game, we realized we could get it together and it built our confidence. We finished on a winning streak.”
“We had a lot of freshmen learning on the job, so we struggled early,” GHC head coach Chad Allan said. “Everyone kept going. We knew how good we could be. They kept believing, then we started winning games and winning those marginal games, too. It came down to getting hot at the right time.”
Romey Begay, the lone sophomore on the roster, noted the help the team received from baseball players scrimmaging with the team.
“The guys coming in to play against us really helped,” Begay added. “We would scrimmage against ourselves, but the intensity went up when we went up against the guys. Everyone stepped up.”
Begay came to Grays Harbor at the start of the 2015-16 season, which was the season after the Chokers finished with a 0-26 record. The Lake Quinault grad, who helped the Elks get into the District IV 1B tournament in four straight seasons, worked with GHC standout Kennedy Wharton and saw her game improve.
This year, she added to her game, plus became a team leader with Thrower, and earned second-team all-NWAC West Region honors.
“Coming onto a team that had zero wins the year before, it was nerve-wracking,” Begay said. “The speed of the game was the biggest challenge for me. I wasn’t used to running and playing that fast, but I got used to it. It has been a tough journey, but it has been a lot of fun. It has been a pleasure to play here.”
Last year, the Chokers rebounded with a 13-14 record to take fourth in the NWAC West and qualify for the NWAC Tournament. There, GHC lost to Umpqua College in the opening round.
This time around, GHC will face a sixth-ranked Skagit Valley squad that is known for playing a slowdown, meticulous style of offense. The Cardinals enter the NWAC Tournament as the No. 1 team in scoring defense at 52.8 points per game. The Chokers average 71.4 points per game, which is fifth overall in the NWAC.
“It is a clash of styles; we want to play uptempo and fast, while they are very measured in what they run on offense,” Allan said. “Our goal is to get them out of their game plan. We haven’t won a game the same way twice this season. We are able to adapt to how the game is, but it will help us if we are able to score and limit our mistakes.”
Allan noted that GHC played Skagit Valley twice last season, getting a two-game split, but only watched it play in its tournament in November. So, there won’t be too many surprises when the teams tip off on Saturday night.
“It is going to be a great game,” Allan said.
For information on the tournament, including ticket prices, visit the NWAC Tournament site at https://tinyurl.com/NWACBKB