The Rangers five sophomores hope to start playoff run for women's basketball program
BREMERTON — Olympic College will return to the Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament bright and early Saturday morning.
The Rangers will have with them five sophomores that believe the program’s return to the playoffs won’t be their last. OC plays at 8 a.m. at Everett College against Centralia.
Point guard Danielle Monzon, shooting guards Katie Campana and Sarah Howerton and power forwards Natalee Gordon and Brittni Blake are leading their team into new territory and hope this is the foundation of continued success for OC.
“I hope so,” Blake said, “I’ll take it.”
Blake added a lot of their success in the Rangers’ second-half resurgence came down to confidence.
“We just had to believe in ourselves,” she said. “We’re all good. We just had to be cohesive and that’s what made us start winning.”
Olympic’s last appearance at the NWAC was in the 2004-05 season. It currently sits at No. 19 in the latest RPI rankings and faced Centralia on Dec. 9, losing 75-32 for its seventh straight loss.
Like his players, OC coach Dave Hawkins hopes this is the beginning of a long playoff run.
“The short answer is yes, you hope,” said Hawkins. “We’ve been right on the cusp almost every year. We’ve been knocking on the door.”
Howerton played in the regional tournament in high school in Arizona but never had the chance to play in a conference tournament.
“We’ve come along way,” she said. “I’m really proud of us and the whole team.”
Coming in as an underdog — and a team that is very different from the one that played Centralia during the preseason — Howerton said the Rangers are a threat.
“We have so much talent on this team,” she said. “Again, in high school, my team was losing and we were underdogs as well but we did have that talent and it’s just like that here. We’re kind of the team that gets picked on … people are like, ‘OC, oh, okay.’”
Monzon and Campana are the lone sophomores with playoff experience as the duo helped lead the Olympic High Trojans to the state 2A tournament as seniors in 2017.
“We were working for those four years to get there, I know it’s two years here, but it’s a similar feeling where all your hard work pays off,” Campana said. “All the hours you put in practice, all the time you spend with your teammates and it just makes it so much more special especially with this group of girls.”
Campana, who played her freshman season at South Puget Sound last year, said the team has fomented a strong bond which, in turn, has led to better play on the court.
“We knew what our strengths were and what we did well and how to capitalize on that,” she said.
“Personally I love being a part of this team,” Monzon said. “It was an honor meeting all of them, growing together and all our hard work paying off.”
Monzon is the Rangers’ scoring leader with a per game average of 12.9, followed by Campana, 10.5, Blake, 7.9, Gordon, 7.7, and Howerton, 5.8. Nearly all five increased their scoring in conference play as Olympic finished second in the North Division with a 10-4 record.
“Preseason was pretty rough for us,” Blake said, referring to the team’s 1-13 start. She wasn’t thinking about the playoffs at that point but is happy the way things turned out for the team. “It’s surreal. It’s a good feeling to see everything fall into place.”
Defensively, the Rangers have been able to hold many opponents to the low- to mid-50 points per game, and that’s no small feat Hawkins said. Gordon, a South Kitsap graduate, is ranked third overall in total rebounds with 261, a per game average of 9.3. Blake is tied for 10th overall with an average of 8.1 (227 total).
Hawkins said if Gordon and Blake can minimize Centralia’s second chances on offense, control the tempo and score on every opportunity the result could be different than what many might think.
“We do not look good on film,” Hawkins said with a wry smile, “I think teams just underestimate us period because of that. Offensively we are a lot better I think teams give us credit for.”
OC also has a couple of players that opponents will find tough to guard, Hawkins said.
“I’m not sure if there is anybody in the NWAC that can contain Danielle,” he said. “She’s a tough cover for anybody.”
If the Rangers are good at one thing, it’s grinding out a win in the final minutes, Hawkins said, adding that’s when their confidence is at its highest.
“I think right now we believe in ourselves and we believe we can win games,” he said. “I think we believe especially in a close game I think we believe that we will come out on top.”
Gordon appreciated Hawkins and assistant coach Leslie Guzman’s continued belief in the team especially early on in the season.
“It was nice to have our coaches keep pushing us and everyday they’d come up with something new to make us better,” she said. “They definitely didn’t give-up. They knew we could be better so the coaches pushed us every day.”
“Dave’s an awesome coach and I can see why people want to play here,” Campana added.
Howerton said no matter what happens, she’s loved every minute she’s spent with her teammates.
“It’s been a fun season and a good two years,” she said.