By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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Or it was supposed to be. Instead, it turned into a growing year.
The Pirates, after the graduation last year of a record-setting group of six players, grew from losing seven of their first 10 games into participants in this weekend's NWAACC Championships at Toyota Center in Kennewick.
The reward for their efforts is an opening round matchup with the Columbia Basin Hawks (13-1, 23-4), who are ranked No. 1 in the NWAACC coaches poll.
Peninsula head coach Alison Crumb has learned a lot from watching hours of film while preparing for the game, and she knows what her team will be facing:
“Long and athletic at the 3, 4 and 5 [positions],” she said, beginning her scouting report of the Hawks.
“They can pull their 5 out to hit a 3-pointer, or she can shot-fake and drive.
“Good shot blockers.
They also switch their defenses and are deep, with a rotation of eight to 10 players.
In short, they have the qualities of a No. 1 team.
However, Peninsula (8-6, 11-13) is still planning to show up for Saturday's 8 p.m. game.
“I think it's a good challenge for us,” she said.
“We have nothing to lose. We're going to go and compete for 40 minutes.”
Crumb said Peninsula's defensive plan will be to slow the game down and try to force the Hawks to shoot 3-pointers.
On offense, the Pirates have enough offensive weapons to pose a danger to any team, starting with freshmen Gabi Fenumiai and Madison Pilster.
Not only are those two Peninsula's top scorers (Fenumiai averages 15.4 points per game, Pilster 14.5), they also are among the top rebounders in the NWAACC.
Fenumiai is tied for second in the conference with 11.9 rebounds per game and Pilster ranks 17th at eight boards per game.
Sophomore Alison Knowles (13.8 points per game) can be deadly from behind the arc, having hit four or more 3-pointers in a game six times this season.
Guards Pherrari Brumbaugh and Olivia Henderson provide a veteran presence, having played significant minutes for the last two seasons.
Crumb said the Pirates are facing Columbia Basin at the best possible time.
“I'd rather play them when our legs are fresh,” she said.
Lively legs will be crucial for the Pirates, whose bench has been decimated by injuries.
Backup guard Marissa Schwimmer is out for the season, and Crumb said Miranda Schmillen's status for Saturday is up in the air.
Alison Knowles, the team's top shooter, will play, but she has been slowed by injury recently.
“We're not very deep,” Crumb said. “It's a good thing I get six timeouts.
“We've got to have kids go in and make plays.”
If the Pirates win Saturday, they will play the winner between Lower Columbia and Chemeketa at 6 p.m. Sunday. If they lose, they'll play the loser of that game at 10 p.m. Sunday.
If they lose Saturday then win Sunday, they will have approximately 12 hours to rest before playing again Monday at noon.
“We're just trying to play as many games as we can,” Crumb said.
Simply making the postseason shows the growth of the program under Crumb, who has been at the helm for five seasons.
This will be the Pirates' third consecutive NWAACC tournament appearance.
In her first two seasons, Peninsula went 2-14 in region play and won a total of eight games overall.
Now, the postseason is an expectation for the Pirates. As is continued growth.
“We've gone there and gone there and gone there, and you know, we've got to do some damage there this year, but our goal is to get there,” Crumb said of the NWAACC tournament after last week's win over Shoreline.
“And you know, we want to win league, and then we want to do well in the tournament, and we're eventually working for an NWAACC championship.
“It's a process and you've got to have the players to do it, but this women's program is not going anywhere.”
This season also shows that Crumb's recruiting is on point.
She replaced last year's graduate class that included Taylor Larson, the school's modern record holder in scoring, and Karli Brakes, the modern record holder for assists and steals, with another playoff-caliber recruiting class.
Crumb said the players are the key.
“You've got to have the kids who work hard and are dedicated and are willing to put the time in,” she said, “and not beat each other down, and lift each other up, and we've had that.
“We've been lucky — I've been lucky — to have the players that I've had.”
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.