The Central Washington University women’s basketball team is starting the season with what amounts to a homecoming game. The Wildcats begin the 2017-18 season with two games this week, including Saturday’s non-conference contest at Seattle University. With a roster comprised largely of players from west of the Cascade Mountains, Saturday’s game is a chance to get a small taste of home.
But for the Wildcats’ top three returning players and head coach, who all hail from Snohomish County, every day in Ellensburg represents something of a reunion.
Central kicks off the college basketball season this week, and the Wildcats do so knowing the fate of their season rests largely in the hands of individuals from Snohomish County.
”I’m super excited for the season,” said first-year Central head coach Randi Richardson-Thornley, a graduate of Arlington High School. “I feel really lucky to be coaching in a program where I get to have those [Snohomish County] connections.”
Those connections make up the core of Central’s team. In Lynnwood High School graduate Jasmin Edwards and Glacier Peak High School products Taylor Baird and Sadie Mensing, the Wildcats return their three best players from last season. Baird (12.8 points per game), Edwards (10.5) and Mensing (9.3) finished 1-2-3 on the team in scoring. Baird, a physical 6-foot-2 senior forward, also led the team in rebounds (8.4) and blocked shots (1.2), while Edwards, a 5-foot-5 senior point guard and the team’s floor general, led the team in assists (5.4) and steals (1.4). Mensing, a 5-foot-9 junior guard and defensive stopper, also was among the team leaders in multiple categories.
Baird and Edwards were both second-team all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference selections last season, and both were unanimous preseason first-team all-GNAC selections this season.
The Snohomish County trio represents three of the 14 returning players from the Wildcats team that went 15-15 last season. Therefore, Central has high hopes this season.
“I think we can go farther than Central women’s basketball has ever gone before,” Baird said. “We have such unity as a team, pretty much everyone has had an entire year together. It means we have a stronger bond, we can read one another and we know each other’s tendencies. That connection will only help us.”
It’s a connection that goes back years. Baird and Mensing played together in high school for three years, while Baird and Edwards played against one another throughout their scholastic and select team careers. Topping it off, Richardson-Thornley was an assistant coach at Arlington in 2013-14 when Edwards’ Royals topped Richardson-Thornley’s Eagles for the 4A district title.
“I just remember playing against Taylor and Sadie was super tough,” said Edwards, who’s been known to hitch a ride if either Baird or Mensing is headed home for the weekend. “It was always a big game when we played Glacier Peak. I didn’t know them personally, but once I did it was, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re the nicest people.’”
Nice in person, less so to opponents on the court. Baird is renown for her willingness to play through contact, while Edwards’ leadership abilities have her already holding the school record for career assists and on pace to demolish the school record for career minutes.
“Taylor is a huge presence for us in the post,” Mensing said. “She’s great at rebounding and scoring, and she’s really aggressive. Jasmin as our point guard is our little leader. She dictates the game for us.”
Meanwhile, Mensing is expected to be a beneficiary of Central’s change in playing style. Under previous head coach Jeff Harada the Wildcats were a team that ran a lot of offensive sets. Richardson-Thornley, who was an assistant the past two seasons under Harada, has changed Central’s style, increasing the tempo of play. That’s expected to benefit Mensing, who’s an asset in transition.
“This year she’ll be able to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim,” Richardson-Thornley said. “It’s fun to see Sadie adding an offensive game to the defensive side she’s always had, and I think her best season is ahead.”
That season begins Tuesday when Central hosts Northwest University, followed by Saturday’s trip to Seattle as the NCAA Division II Wildcats take on the Division I Redhawks, affording the Snohomish County players the opportunity to play in front of family and friends.
But no matter where Central plays, there will always be that Snohomish County feel to the Wildcats.
“It’s an awesome atmosphere, it’s really fun playing with teammates and coaches from the same area,” Baird said. “It creates a good sense of community and belonging. I feel this is where we’re supposed to be and this is what we’re supposed to be doing.”
If you have an idea for a community sports story, e-mail Nick Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.