Saints qualify for NWAC Championship after eight year absence

In his first year as head coach of the Mt. Hood women’s basketball team, Jeremy Vandenboer has led the Saints back to the NWAC Championship tournament for their first trip since the 2009-10 season.

The lady Saints finished fourth in the South Division with a record of 9-7, and went 12-14 overall before entering the playoffs that began on Thursday. They were set to play North Division winner Bellevue Thursday afternoon, in the first round of the 16-team tournament hosted by Everett Community College.

Despite beginning February with a loss against South-leading Umpqua, Mt. Hood won its next five games to clinch its playoff spot well before the season was over. After beating the Portland Community College Panthers, 59-47, for their fourth straight win, the Saints clinched their spot in the Sweet 16 with three regular season games to play.

The Saints went on to beat Linn-Benton in Albany before losing their last two games against higher-ranked Clackamas and Lane teams.

While Mt. Hood lost to the Titans of Lane Community College this past Saturday, 82-76, in their final regular season game, they gave a very good Lane team (second in the South) all they could handle. This could give the Saints some confidence, and hope, for Thursday’s matchup with top seed Bellevue and a taste of what’s to come.

The Saints have been led led by freshman center Rachel Watson and freshman point guard McKenzie Long. Watson is averaging 12 points per game and 10 rebounds, while Long is averaging 10 points and three assists.

Another notable player has been sophomore guard Jessica Parker, averaging 8 points and shooting 32 percent behind the three-point arc.

After Saturday’s loss against Lane, Long said, “We felt like that was a pretty good game. Lane is like in the top five in NWAC’s and so playing them that close we felt really good. We’re excited to have that momentum heading into the playoffs.”

A playoff run wasn’t even imaginable last year, and sophomores Parker and Makenzie Whitney are very aware of that. Getting to the tournament for Mt. Hood “feels really good, as a whole… but for me personally and with (Whitney), we’re super-excited because obviously last year we did not even come close to the amount of wins we have this year.”

Last year’s Saints team went 2-14 in the South, and 7-21 overall.

As for taking on the Bellevue Bulldogs, Long said, “I think it’s just play hard. One of the things of our team that I love the most is, win or lose we’re playing as hard as we can ’til the last minute and that’s something that you can’t really coach somebody.

“That’s something that you have as character in yourself.”

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