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Western Oregon senior Lorrie Clifford dribbles the ball downcourt during Sunday’s loss to Hawaii Pacific.
November 14, 2012
Pacific Lutheran (0-0) at Western Oregon (1-2)
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: New Physical Education Building.
Admission: $6 adults; $4 seniors/non-WOU students.
MONMOUTH -- When you're a freshman, you imagine all the things you'll do when you -- and the rest of your class -- are seniors.
At least that's what Lorrie Clifford did.
"It's kind of weird. You just anticipate graduating with four people your freshman year and you're all, `Oh, we're going to be so good together,' you know, but ... ."
The Western Oregon University senior trailed off a bit as she finished her sentence shortly after the Wolves' women's basketball team's tough 65-61 loss to Hawaii Pacific Sunday.
These days, Clifford -- now a senior -- is all that's left of the 2009-10 recruiting class of the Western Oregon University women's basketball program.
She's also this year's only senior.
But in her fourth year as a starter, she's certainly made the most of it.
"The fact that she's a senior by herself is ironic, but that's just the way it worked out," sixth-year WOU coach Greg Bruce said of the 5-foot-8 guard from Eagle River, Alaska.
Bruce maintains -- like he always has, since learning of her desire to play at WOU -- that Clifford is a special kind of player.
"I have a lot of respect for her because, first of all, she gives you everything she's got," he said.
"She prepares herself -- she's the hardest worker you could ever imagine. Her work ethic is second to none, and she takes care of her body off the court, watches what she eats.
"For a college athlete in this day and age, that's saying a lot. She wants to be a basketball player. She loves it and she has a passion for it and she prepares herself for it."
With a WOU team that lost its two leading scorers from a season ago -- Rylee Peterson (15.6 ppg) and Jade Haas (10.1 ppg) graduated -- that preparation will be needed more than ever.
Western returns three starters -- Melissa Fowler and Amanda Reade are the other two -- from a team that struggled for most of the 2011-12 season, winning just seven games, six in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play.
Clifford, who started all 28 games at guard in 2011-12 and averaged 29.4 minutes per game, is by far the most experienced, but she, like all of WOU's returners, knows her role will be even bigger now.
"It's a lot of pressure, responsibility," Clifford, who averaged 7.8 points and 3.2 rebounds a game and dished out a team-high 57 assists last season, said.
Western Oregon sophomore Dana Goularte, shown here in Sunday’s loss to Hawaii Pacific, has averaged 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds through the Wolves’ first three games this season.
Choosing a school nearly 2,500 miles away from home - just to play basketball -- was a pretty responsible decision in itself.
"I needed a change; I was young and I wanted to get out of Alaska for a little bit," Clifford said of her choice to contact Bruce for an opportunity. Of the two Alaska schools in the GNAC -- Fairbanks and Anchorage -- only Fairbanks showed interest, but Anchorage -- a team that won 30 games last season -- "didn't want me," Clifford said.
"(They) decided I was a better fit for a community college," Clifford said bluntly.
So she moved south -- she has several relatives and family friends in Dallas and Astoria -- and fit in immediately at WOU, starting 28 of 30 games her freshman year, averaging 22.7 minutes, 5.5 points and 3.2 rebounds for a squad that won 11 games. She's started ever since.
"It was a big reason why I didn't go to community college -- I wanted to be an actual part of a team for four years," Clifford said.
For the Wolves, she's more than just a part.
"She is our backbone, honestly," Fowler, a junior forward from Canby High, said. "She keeps our team together. She's a great leader and she's the hardest working girl on our team.
"Everybody looks up to her."
But does the inexperience -- the Wolves brought in seven freshmen and two transfers this season -- of Clifford's senior-year squad worry her?
Not a chance.
"It's kind of fun, just because you're basically starting fresh," she said. "You kind of mold them into the kind of program that you want them to be in. I feel like we have so much more potential to grow and that's kind of cool to see."
After dropping two of their first three games last weekend to open the season, the Wolves are hoping that potential evolves quickly.
As the Division II college experience of the new players continues to grow, the returners will be leaned on heavily.
"Dana (Goularte) and Amber (Reade) got plenty of playing time, along with Melissa (Fowler) and Lorrie," Bruce said of his returners. "Those are the kids you would think right away to take on that scoring and rebounding."
Through the team's first three games, Goularte, a 6-foot sophomore, has proven to be the most consistent, averaging 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting at a 48.1 percent clip. Clifford is not far behind, as she's averaged 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
But everyone knows it's still very, very early. The newness of the season also gives much reason for hope.
"I think once we all finally really mesh together, we can be really successful," Fowler said. "I'm excited -- I think we can do good things."
And Clifford's goals?
"A winning season and to make the conference tournament," she said. "We want to win 15 games -- at least -- and be in our conference tournament.
"And my goal, personally, is to beat Alaska, both times."
2012-13 WESTERN OREGON WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
Coach: Greg Bruce (sixth season, 48-118).
2011-12 record: 7-21 (6-12 Great Northwest Athletic Conference, seventh place).
Returning starters: 3.
Key returners: Lorrie Clifford, sr., 5-8 G (Chugiak, Alaska); Melissa Fowler, jr., 5-10 F (Canby); Amber Reade, soph., 5-8 G (Paradise Valley, Ariz.); Dana Goularte, soph., 6-0 F (South Kitsap, Wash.); Elise Miller, soph., 5-6 G (Clackamas).
Newcomers to watch: Chantel Divilbiss, jr., 5-7 G (North Idaho College); Mariah Durian, fr., 6-0 G/F (Esperanza, Calif.); Kelsey Henry, fr., 6-1 F (Morgan, Utah).
By the numbers: 28.4 -- That's how many points per game the Wolves (60.1 ppg) lost to graduation, primarily seniors Rylee Peterson (15.6 ppg and all-GNAC honorable mention) and Jade Haas (10.1 ppg). They'll have to replace that scoring by committee this season.
Outlook: With three returning starters, the Wolves aren't necessarily lacking experience. What WOU is lacking, however, is height. The Wolves' two tallest players at 6-foot-2 -- Jordawn Emmett (jr., transfer from Humboldt State) and Whitney Rodriguez (fr., Yucca Valley, Calif.) did not play in WOU's first three games, leaving the guard-like Goularte (6-0) and forward Henry (6-1) the tallest thus far to see minutes on the floor. Rodriguez is expected to be an important piece, but she is still waiting on eligibility requirements to clear from her high school. Clifford (7.8 ppg, 57 assists) returns as a fourth-year starter, and she'll split point guard duties with North Idaho transfer Divilbiss after the loss of Miller to a torn anterior cruciate ligamentsuffered in WOU's exhibition loss at Washington State. Fowler (8.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Goularte (5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) will be leaned on more heavily to score, while Reade (2.4 ppg) should also see plenty of time at the guard spot. Of the freshmen, Durian has shown the ability to put up points -- she had 29 in WOU's season-opening win over Hawaii Pacific -- and Katie Goddard (5-10 G, Lake Stevens, Wash.) has long-range ability (3 of 8 from 3-point range in Sunday's 65-61 loss to the Sea Warriors). The Wolves haven't shown much depth in their first three games, as just eight players have seen action.