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Riverhawks look to contend for NWAC title

Women’s basketball team returns key players and adds six new faces to its 2014-2015 squad

Photo provided by UCC Athletic Dept.
The 2014-15 UCC women’s basketball team looks to improve on last season’s second place finish in the NWAC Championships.

The Umpqua Community College women’s basketball team enters the 2014-15 season with unfinished business. The Riverhawks heartbreaking 86-74 loss to Columbia Basin in last year’s NWAC championship game culminated into a second place finish for Umpqua, and resulted in the team’s best season in 14 years.
With a core group of sophomores returning, and a talented freshman class ready to contribute, a repeat of last season’s success isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“We really set a goal after last season to make it back to the NWAC championships, and get back to that game,” sophomore Marcel Ortiz said. “Everything we have done from last spring through summer, and up until now, was all with that goal in mind.”
In order for Umpqua to make another push into the post-season, they will rely heavily on their size. The Riverhawks boast one of the biggest line-ups in the entire NWAC.
“We have nine girls who are between 5’10’’ and 6’1’’, our size is definitely going to be an advantage for us,” head coach Dave Stricklin said.
Umpqua also returns three starters from last season’s squad. Sophomore point guard Romanalyn Inocencio, forward Kayla Bice and NWAC South Region player of the year, Ashli Payne.
Payne returns for her sophomore season following a remarkable freshman year. Her 53 point performance against Portland last year tied UCC’s single game scoring record. After finishing eighth in the NWAC in scoring, at 17.94 points per game, and sixth in rebounding with 10.16 a game, Payne will be a major focal point for the Riverhawks this year.
“We are going to play Ashli a little bit of everywhere this year, including point guard,” Stricklin said. “That is the great thing about her, you can play her anywhere. She is so versatile. You can run one offense and it’s like running three different ones depending on where you play her. Whether she is inside or outside, she causes match-up problems across the board.”
Payne is ready to do whatever is needed to get her team ready for the season.
“We push each other every day in practice, and l let the freshman know what they can expect,” Payne said. “Ultimately our team goal is to win the whole thing, but we are going to take this one game at a time.”
Being able to play AAU basketball in high school, and now playing in college alongside Payne has had lasting impact on incoming freshman guard Sawyer Kluge.
“Playing with Ashli again is nice, we have chemistry and know how each other plays,” Kluge said. “We really work well together on the court. Playing with her in high school played a huge factor in me committing to UCC. She is a role model for me, and the type of player I want to be in a year.”
Hailing from Bremerton, Washington, Kluge is the Riverhawks latest addition from an area that has produced a number of recent players for UCC.
“In the past four years we have added four different athletes out of Bremerton,” Stricklin said. “We’ve had former players Samantha Thorton and Shannon Jackson, and now we have Ashli and Sawyer. By adding Sawyer, that means the last four years the best player out of Bremerton has come here to play. They have all been really good.”
Kluge will be a starter for the Riverhawks this season following a standout senior year at Bremerton High School.
“Sawyer is a player,” Stricklin said. “She is going to take that shooting guard spot for us. She is big, rebounds, plays good defense and she can get to the rim. Sawyer is close to Ashli in terms of versatility.”
As a senior, Kluge averaged 22.7 points per game, 12 rebounds and 5.6 steals garnering her an Olympic League MVP award and her second all-league first team selection.
“One of the reasons I came here is because UCC is a winning program and I want to win,” Kluge said. “I’m excited. We have a good team and I’m ready to get started.”
For the Riverhawks to continue a tradition of winning, a question of chemistry and maintaining a sense of urgency must be answered.
“Chemistry is vital,” Stricklin said. “It’s way too early in the season to know if we have that yet. We really have to have the freshman buy in. The sophomores have been pretty driven this year. The key is will that rub off on these freshman and how long will it take?”
The team’s leadership will be heavily relied upon to accomplish those tasks. An area they are definitely not in short supply of.
“We don’t have just one leader on this team,” Stricklin said. “Ashli is a leader, but she is not vocal like Mana (Inocencio). She leads by example more than anything else. Marcy Ortiz is as much a leader as anyone on this team. She will help us. She isn’t going to average 30 minutes a game for us, or led us in scoring or rebounding, but she will continue to help. Marcy is without a doubt our most improved player. She works so hard every day with everything. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her.”
In addition to leadership, UCC will have the luxury of versatility with its starting line-up.
“To be honest, we have potentially ten people that could start if we needed them to.”
For the time being however, Stricklin has settled on a starting five. UCC will feature 5’4’’ Inocencio (6.94 ppg, 2.58 assists, 1.52 steals) at the point, 5’11’’ Payne (17.94 ppg, 10.16 rebs) and 5’10’’ Kluge (Bremerton, Washington.) at the guard positions. At forward, 5’11’’ Bice (6.87 ppg, 4.7 rebs) and 6’1’’ Anna Mumm (Laguna Hills, Ca.) will start.
Regardless of who starts for the Riverhawks this season, the team can take solace in the fact it has a deep bench at its disposal. UCC returns 6’0’’ forward Pilialoha Kailiawa (Pahala, Hi), and 5’11’’ Ortiz (Scio, Or.) from last year’s squad. Freshmen guards 5’10’’ Madison Pape (Independence, Or.), and 5’3’’ Jasmyne Davis (Los Angeles, Ca) will round out the guard positions. At forward, 5’11’ sophomore Breannie Robinson (Oakland, Ca.), and 5’11’’ freshman Shaunta Jackson (Beaverton, Or.) will fill out the post positions.
Umpqua will undoubtedly start the season as favorites to win the NWAC South, and should contend for a championship. However, Stricklin and his coaching staff of Perry Murray and Linda Stricklin caution against the notion that this is a championship or bust season.
“We can’t be so concerned with winning a championship,” Stricklin said. “Our concern is we need to be champions ever day in how we approach all things. How we approach practice, the weight room or study hall. We need to be champions every day. The NWAC championships aren’t until March, and if we don’t take care of the day-to-day things we won’t be in a position to win at all.”