Halfway through his fourth season, Clark women’s basketball coach Al Aldridge is happy with how his team has evolved this season.
The Penguins are 12-6 and ranked third in the NWAC southern division. Last season the team finished 16-11 and advanced to the playoffs as fourth in the western division.
The two top scoring teams in the conference are in the south. Lane Community College has averaged 88.71 points per game and leads the NWAC as the only undefeated team at 20-0. Just behind Lane is Umpqua Community College, who is averaging 83.57 points per game. Clark averages 68.
With eight of 11 Clark players being freshmen, the Penguins have worked hard and shown “a better buy-in to the system than before, and the great thing about it is they’re recognizing it,” Aldridge said.
“They have made the adjustment period that all college athletes have to when making the jump from high school to college,” Aldridge said.
As of right now, they are in place to qualify for another playoff run. Last season, Clark upset the eastern region No. 1 seed Walla Walla Community College in a nail-biting 61-60 first-round victory, only to fall to Southwestern Oregon Community College in the quarter finals. Another loss to Blue Mountain ended the women’s season.
Sophomores Megan Pyles, Caylee Newsom and Bryn Tennison are the only returning players from last year’s cinderella team.
Of the team’s many freshmen is Breann Nueku from Honolulu. She rarely played point guard before this season but is 13th in the NWAC south with 64 assists in 18 games.
“It’s a good feeling to pass the ball and set my teammates up to succeed,” Nueku said.
“As a team we have a much better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses,” said co-captain Newsom. “And we trust in each other.”
Newsom is leading the team with 13.1 points per game.
Co-captain Pyles has been sidelined with a concussion all season. “I’m very doubtful that Pyles will be able to play this season,” Aldridge said. “However she’s been at every practice and continues to be a difference maker.”
Pyles said the team has improved since the beginning of the season and they have a much better connection.
Aldridge likes the Penguins’ chances of reaching the NWAC playoffs in Everett from Mar. 10 to 13. He said the team needs to stay healthy, execute the offense and continue to make good decisions.
Right now the Penguins are a “middle of the pack-team,” according to Aldridge. “All good teams are a work in progress midway through the season – any team, no matter how talented, can always progress.”