Clark Limps to Playoffs; Kicks Top Speed

By Josh Brody in News

Clark’s women’s basketball team’s resilience never crumbled in the 2014-15 season, even when their bodies did.

The Penguins lost starting guard Shantell Jackson in the third game of the season and at times played with only seven players on their active roster. Despite a weakened roster, Clark reached the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament and caused a stir.

Clark started the season with two large wins against Blue Mountain Community College, 90-67, and Whatcom Community College, 67-57, during the Yakima Valley Tournament.

During the championship game against Centralia College, the Lady Penguin’s team captain, Shantell Jackson, tore her ACL and meniscus driving baseline towards the basket as the first half ended. Jackson, averaging 27 points per game, was out for the season.

“I think it really hit the team hard. The girls had to adjust our style of play during the game, which is hard for any team to do,” Jackson said.

Clark started the season with 13 players and by the end of the season the team suited only seven.

The Lady Penguins looked to sophomore guard, Taylor Howlett, and freshman guard, Caylee Newsom, to provide points and stability throughout the regular season.

With Howlett and Newsom averaging nearly 33 minutes per game, Clark muscled their way into the NWAC tournament in Kennewick Wa., March 7-10, with the fourth seed in the West Region.

“Taylor and Caylee both were forced to carry the team, and they did a great job of doing so,” said Head Coach Al Aldridge.

Clark (16-9) entered the first round of the tournament against the number two seeded Walla Walla Warriors (21-6) and ended the half with a 37-24 lead, shooting nearly 47 percent. The Warriors fought back and took the lead with five minutes remaining.

With a minute left, Clark’s guard Bryn Tennyson sunk a three pointer to hold off the Warriors, 61-60. Even with a beat-up roster, Clark was able to upset one of the NWAC’s best teams.

The Lady Penguins surged ahead to round two of the tournament, and faced Southwest Oregon Lakers at noon the following day.

Clark held off the Lakers for the first 10 minutes by a lead of 10, until the Lakers fought back and gained a 38-37 lead going into the half. Clark shot 38 percent compared to Southwest Oregon’s 58.

Although every Penguin suited scored, they couldn’t suppress the Lakers, losing 73-70.

“We could have done so much better,” Aldridge said.

Howlett agreed. “We’ve been dealing with adversity all season so we felt like the outcome could have been different,” Howlett said.

With a minute left in regulation, Clark forward Michaela Bitanga crumbled to the floor and Aldridge confirmed she sprained her ankle. He said that she would likely not be fit to return for their final game against Blue Mountain.

The final day of the tournament, Clark was understaffed but did their best to hold off the Timberwolves. Shooting 32 percent to Blue Mountain’s 42 percent, Clark’s exhausting season came to an end, final score 70-53.

With Jackson on track to return next season, Aldridge is preparing to recruit around her. Aldridge is looking to build a team that matches the gritty style of play they had this year.

“It will be great to get a healthy group of girls on the bench, ready to play hard for 42 minutes and learn our system,” he said.

Aldridge admitted his excitement for next years team, and hopes to see the members  “healthy and more competitive.”

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