Big Bend women face upset-minded Mt. Hood in tournament opener

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Connor Vanderweyst/Columbia Basin Herald Moses Lake Christian graduate Anna Yarbro has been a key reserve on Big Bend this season.

MOSES LAKE — Big Bend women’s basketball knows what it’s like to be a tournament Cinderella.

Last season, the fourth-seeded Vikings upset Grays Harbor on their way to the Final Four. Now, the metaphorical glass slipper is on the other foot. The Vikings are the No. 1 seed ranked second in the Northwest Athletic Conference coaches poll entering this weekend’s NWAC Tournament.

“We experienced being the Cinderella last year and we don’t want somebody to try and be the Cinderella on us,” head coach Preston Wilks said.

Big Bend (14-2, 25-4) will face No. 4 seed Mt. Hood (11-5, 20-9) in the opening round of the tournament Saturday, 10 a.m., at Everett Community College. Viewed as a contender to win the whole tournament, Big Bend will have to avoid the same letdown Grays Harbor suffered a season ago.

The weight of a top seed is not lost on the players.

“I feel like a target on our back with being the No. 1 seed and I think we realize that even though we’re playing a No. 4 seed we have to come out kind of like we did last year and think every team was the best team and come out and play as hard as we can and play our game,” sophomore guard Miranda Johnson said.

Big Bend started region play 5-0 and closed the season on a nine-game win streak to win its first East Region championship since 2003. A far cry from barely qualifying for tournament play a season ago.

So, how do the Vikings avoid resting on their laurels? Remind themselves of that back-against-the-wall mentality that served the team so well in 2018.

“After we clinched the title we gave the girls a couple days off and then when we came back to practice to get ready for the tournament we had a neat experience,” Wilks said. “We had a couple of sophomores stand up and say, ‘Hey, Coach, can I say something?’ And what they said is, ‘Hey, you guys, It don’t matter what our ranking is or our seeding is. We know that a four seed can beat anybody on any given night because we were the four seed last year and so let’s play like we’re the four seed, let’s prepare like we’re the four seed and not the one seed.’ And that came from the girls and I was like, ‘Amen!’”

The Vikings have found success this season with a balanced starting lineup and a few key reserves. Miranda Johnson’s 14.4 points per game lead a roster that has seven players averaging at least seven points. Starters Hannah Wilson (12.2), Leah Dougherty (10.7) and Kelsey Sorenson (10) join Johnson in double figures.

Johnson and Wilson were named to the East Region first and second team, respectively, while Dougherty made the all-defense team.

Mt. Hood also boasts a balanced roster with only one player scoring in double digits yet a team scoring average of 70.9 points per game. Sophomore forward Courtney Jackson leads the Saints with 12.2 points per game.

“They’re a good team,” Wilks said. “If you’re talking about draws, on paper that’s a pretty tough draw to draw a ranked team in the NWAC in your first round, but they’re just a tough, talented team. They’ve got a good blend of guards and bigs. They’re long, they bring kids off the bench that contribute on any given night.”

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