Peninsula’s Ituau Tuisaula finds herself surrounded by the Shoreline defense during Wednesday’s game in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Peninsula’s Ituau Tuisaula finds herself surrounded by the Shoreline defense during Wednesday’s game in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW: No. 1 Pirates focus on the now

Peninsula returns several players from last year’s runner-up squad

PORT ANGELES — The Peninsula College women’s basketball team comes in to 2022 with a lot of hype surrounding them.

The team, which came within a couple of seconds of winning the NWAC championship last year, is ranked No. 1 in the NWAC preseason poll with 142 votes to defending champion Lower Columbia’s 121 votes (Port Angeles’ Bailee Larson and Neah Bay’s Courtney Swan are on Lower Columbia’s roster).

That championship game was a heartbreaker for the Pirates as a reserve player for Lower Columbia sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to win 76-75.

Coach Allison Crumb said she and her players are “de-escalating” thoughts about the NWAC championship.

“They know what it takes to get there, [but] we’re not even thinking about it. Now is a time to come together and establishing a culture. We’re worrying about December and November,” Crumb said. “Being ranked No. 1 doesn’t help that cause.”

Crumb said this year’s squad, which finished the season 25-4, is roughly a 50/50 mix of returning players and newcomers, most of whom come from Alaska. Crumb was an AAU coach in Alaska several years ago and said she got to know a lot of her Alaskan recruits from back then.

Leading the team will be inside player Ituau Tuisaula, a 6-foot-1 post from Alaska who gave the Pirates 10.5 points and 9.0 rebounds a game last year.

“Our inside presence and post play will be in the top three in the NWAC,” Crumb said. “That will be our strength.”

Another returning star is Port Angeles’ Millie Long, who gave the Pirates 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.7 steals a game last year. Long, who also plays soccer for Peninsula College (in fact, she was the North Region MVP), is taking a couple of weeks off and will rejoin the basketball team in December.

“We’re giving her some time off after the wear and tear of soccer season,” Crumb said. Talia Marini is another soccer player taking a couple of weeks off to begin the year.

Tati Kamae, a Hawaiian player, is another returner. She averaged 3.8 points a game for the Pirates as a freshman. Adam Kaganak (5.0 points a game) is a returning Alaskan.

“Adam and Tati have really grown and matured this year,” Crumb said.

One of the big newcomers will be Chasity Selden from Eagle River, Alaska. She is a 5-foot-7 point guard who will be joining the team in the winter quarter. She is a transfer from Bryant and Stratton College in Buffalo, N.Y., where she averaged 12.8 points a game.

Crumb said Jenilee Donovan, a freshman from Barrow, Alaska, has looked good so far this preseason and Lupe’lani Vaaia, an Anchorage, Alaska, freshman is a good defender and “does all the little things.”

One of the team’s top recruits, Sunny Pedebone, a transfer from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, will not play this year due to injury.

The roster is rounded out by returning Olympic Peninsula players Gina Brown (Quilcene and Port Townsend) and Ruth Moss (Neah Bay).

Last year’s team blew through the North Region and NWAC tournament despite having a couple of big flaws — outside shooting and free-throw shooting. The Pirates would simply use their defense to create fast breaks and layups to overcome these weaknesses.

Crumb expects this year’s team to be better shooting beyond the 3-point line, though the emphasis will remain on creating fast breaks, driving the lane and taking advantage of the Pirates’ size inside.

“We’re going to wear teams down getting into the paint,” she said.

She also felt improving the team’s free-throw shooting was a big priority.

The Pirates have already played some exhibition games against Saint Martin’s College and Camosun College in Victoria, B.C., that don’t count in the standings. Peninsula begins preconference games that do count Friday and Saturday in Pasco against Walla Walla and Columbia Basin.

The women have six home games in December, including a battle against defending champion Lower Columbia on Dec. 4. The Pirates play the Red Devils a second time in Longview on Dec. 10.

The Pirates begin North Region play at Bellevue on Jan. 11.

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