Enlisting New Troops: Scholarships Attract Diverse Athletes

Throughout Fall quarter, neon pink signs lined the walls of O’Connell Sports Center proclaiming in bold letters: “Women’s basketball players wanted.” Now, about halfway through the season, the 11-member team features eight freshmen and six players from beyond Washington and Oregon.

That includes freshman Hawaii-native Breann Nueku.

The distance of the roster is nothing new, according to head coach Al Aldridge. Clark continues to take advantage of the NWAC recruiting zone that allows them to offer scholarships to players from 10 states in the northwest, including Hawaii, Alaska and the province of British Columbia. Athletes from outside of this zone may play for Clark but may not receive scholarships, according to Athletic Director Ann Walker.

According to Walker, the women’s and men’s basketball teams are each allocated 22 quarters of 65 percent tuition scholarship funds per year by the state of Washington. Nueku is one of the players to receive a scholarship.

“Al saw my YouTube video, and we connected from there,” said the first-time point guard.

Some other schools have diverse rosters, like Green River Community College in Auburn, Washington, which stacks its roster with players from Texas, Alaska, Nevada and Idaho, in addition to local players.

On the other hand, nine of the 10 players for the women’s undefeated conference leader, Lane Community College in Eugene, are from Oregon or Washington, with the last being from California. Players for Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Oregon all hail from that state.

Washington community colleges generally appear to have more diverse rosters than Oregon schools. According to Aldridge, that could be because Oregon colleges can offer their athletes full tuition scholarships as opposed to Washington’s 65 percent. “It’s hard to get kids to come to Washington without help,” Aldridge said. Schools like Clark end up having to reach out to players in an assortment of states.

NWAC recruitment rules are more lax than NCAA policies, according to Walker. “There aren’t a lot of rules,” she said. “You can start talking to high school players when you want, as much as you want. If community colleges were limited to the same rules and limits that four-year schools are, then they’d be behind even more.”

The NWAC rules are unclear about the academic side of the athletes’ education. While athletes must remain full-time students by taking a minimum of 12 credits, the rules state that players must also remain in “good academic standing,” according to Walker.

“It’s ambiguous because what might be good academic standing at Lower Columbia is different than here,” said the athletic director. “So each school defines it differently. Some don’t define it at all.” Clark interprets the policy as a 2.0 GPA minimum, which Walker said is new since her hiring in 2014.

Aldridge said the young roster this year is largely due to several players graduating last Spring. He also said they lost six players they were expecting to have this year right before school started.

“The objective was to see if some kid walking the halls wanted to play basketball that we hadn’t seen,” the coach said. This prompted the printing of the pink flyers.

Not only has she had to make the adjustment to collegiate basketball, but Nueku had the added challenge of adjusting to a new home.

“Basketball keeps me busy so I don’t think about longing for home as much,” she said. “Not having my family and friends come to games has been a big thing for me. Being here, it’s harder for them to make it to my games, but it’s nice that they can livestream it.”

The Penguins take a week off from playing or practicing during Thanksgiving and 10 days off for winter break to allow players to go home and be with their families. Nueku did just that.

“The biggest difference is probably the weather,” Nueku said. “In Hawaii it’s warm and sunny, but it’s cold here,” she laughed.

Assistant coach Lisa Parker “is like the mom of the team,” Aldridge said, and players who are feeling cold and lonely can come to her for comfort.

The women's basketball team huddle together after a time out against Portland Community College
The women’s basketball team put their hands in after a huddle during their game against Portland Community College.

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