Big Bend women take fast start into home tournament

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Connor Vanderweyst/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend forward Hailey Garrity puts up a shot earlier in the season.

MOSES LAKE — Money talks.

The minimum wage in Washington is almost four dollars higher than in Idaho and Utah. So, a choice between working in Moses Lake or returning home for the summer wasn’t much of a choice for Big Bend basketball players Sunnie Martinez, Kelsey Foster, Emily Allan and Callie Gronning.

The quartet stayed and, in addition to their jobs, worked on their games as well.

“They had a chance to do small group workouts with me and they were always after me to do a workout,” head coach Preston Wilks. “They wanted to get better and they put in the time and the effort to do that. They were like sponges this summer. In the summer time you get a chance to individualize your instruction and change a few things that maybe you don’t have time to and have them focus and work on.

“They just ate everything up and you could see during the summer their progress and their ability to finish and shoot and their confidence growing because they could do things that I was teaching them. All the credit is to them because they just wanted it. They wanted to get better and they put the time in and made the effort to do it.”

That extra work has paid dividends in the early-season.

Big Bend is 6-1 overall, ranked No. 8 in the Under Armour Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll and just placed third at the Everett Crossover Tournament. Big Bend’s lone loss against Everett, 91-86. The Vikings trimmed a 14-point halftime deficit to two points in the fourth quarter, but could not overcome 15 turnovers. Everett is ranked No. 3 and received one first-place vote.

“We weren’t excited about losing that because we knew that we had too many turnovers and if we played a clean a game we felt like we would’ve gotten to the championship, but that gave us some more confidence playing them tight.”

It sounds simple, but the biggest difference for Big Bend so far this season has been shot-making.

“I think we’re hitting shots this year,” Wilks said. “Coach (Mark) Poth always says you look a lot better when you’re knocking down shots and we’ve got some players who are really, really shooting well right now.”

Really well might be an understatement.

Big Bend has the two best three-point shooters in the NWAC. Gronning is shooting an unreal 64.3 percent from distance and 65 percent from the field. Foster is No. 2 at 57.1 percent. Point guard Martinez is ninth at 46.9 percent.

That dead-eye shooting has translated to 87.7 points per game, which is second overall. Big Bend also averages the second-most assists per game with 21.9.

The success isn’t just on one side of the ball, however. The Vikings are No. 1 in points allowed (50) and No. 8 in opponent field goal percentage (34).

Big Bend plays its final tournament before the holiday break, starting on Thursday against Fairchild AFB at 7 p.m., and continues Friday against Langara College and Saturday against Portland.

“I look to the Langara game because they’re a four-year school and they typically have ballplayers that are really solid,” Wilks said. “Their style of play is a little bit European and the kids can all knock down midrange jumpers. They have bid kids that can rebound. They have big kids that can run the pick and roll with ball screens and they have skilled point guards who can take care of the ball.”

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