Portland State visits Eastern Washington next weekend to tip off the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball season and that isn’t such a bad thing for the Vikings’ Spokane connection.
“I always like playing at Eastern,” forward Kelli Valentine (Mead) said. “They’re always a good opponent. Family and friends always come to that game. It’s sad. It’s another last for your senior year. … Obviously, we’re looking forward to it.”
It also means if the conference comes down to the dogfight expected between PSU, EWU, Montana and Montana State, Valentine and Lexi Bishop (Shadle Park) won’t have an emotional trip in the home stretch.
The Greater Spokane League alums from the Class of 2007 that feature seven Division I players, are an interesting contrast.
As seniors, Valentine didn’t average in double figures but was second-team all-league as Mead finished fourth in state.
Bishop was second in the league in scoring behind Angie Bjorklund (U-Hi, Tennessee) at 18.7 and made All-GSL first team.
Now, the 5-foot-11 Valentine, who shrunk 1 inch from the high school program, is a 1,000-point, 500-rebound player, surpassing a grand when she scored a career-high 24 points against Tulane on Nov. 27.
Meanwhile, the 5-8 Bishop, who has grown 1 inch since she left as the Highlanders’ all-time leading scorer, is considered a tenacious defender.
“Kinda weird,” Bishop said. “I have no idea why. My sophomore year is when I started to like defense. Maybe it was my (rebuilt) knee. I wasn’t scoring as much, I wasn’t as confident in my shot. Defense is something I can con- trol. Now it’s my favorite part of the game.”
Valentine is the 14th Viking to reach 1,000 points and the 11th to add 500 rebounds.
“Not very many people have done that,” Valentine said. “I feel kind of lucky to be part of this program that incorporates the post so much so you can do that.”
The duo has combined to make more than 160 starts, beginning with 45 between them as freshmen. As sophomores they helped the Vikings earn the school’s first D-I postseason berth, going 1-1 in the WNIT. The Vikings struggled last season under the weight of being conference favorites, but came alive in the Big Sky Tournament at EWU to win their first trip to the Big Dance.
“It’s something you always dream about doing,” said Valentine, who is averaging 10 points. “It was cool to see everything that went on. The NCAA tournament really caters to the players. It was cool to be on that side of things.”
The goal is to go again, and get a win, but it’s not the only goal.
“We just talked about our goals the other day, regrouped before the conference,” Bishop said. “The seniors want to win the Big Sky Conference, we haven’t done that. We want a ring.”
Valentine has only missed one game in her career – against Gonzaga last year because of a foot injury – while Bishop has battled to stay healthy, although she has missed less than a handful of games.
A pleasant surprise has been how often they bump into old rivals. The Class of 2007 sent two other players to the Big Sky Conference and another to the University of Portland.
“We grew up playing against each other and we’re still playing against each other,” Valentine said.
Stanford, the last team to defeat UConn (at the 2008 NCAA Final Four), is home against the Huskies at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2. … That same night, Angie Bjorklund (University) should set the Tennessee record for 3-pointers, against Rutgers. … Lyndi Seidensticker (Lewis and Clark) scored 19 when Montana State set a team record for points in a 107-58 win over Pacific. Combined with her first double-double a game earlier, she earned her second Big Sky Player of the Week honor. … Senior Heidi Heintz (Central Valley) was last week’s Big West player of the week for hitting all seven of her shots and all four free throws en route to a game-high 19 points as UC Davis crushed San Jose State. … Hofstra freshman Kate Loper (Post Falls) is the CAA Rookie of the Week. To win for the fourth time, Loper had a career-high 24 points.