Even with only seven lady ballers on the roster, the Pierce College Lady Raiders have had an impressive basketball preseason, proving that hard work, discipline and endurance are vital for success on the court. Even against platoons of opponents, the seven-woman squad has averaged more than 74 points a game and defensively has kept their opponents at a mere 58-point average so far this season.
Under the skilled leadership of third-year coach Brain Purugganan, Pierce has raised the bar for community college women’s basketball. Last year, Purugganan led the Raiders to a league record of 8-8, enough to net a fifth-place finish in the Western Division, barely missing a trip to the NWAACC Tournament.
“Our team is working hard every game out. We only have two girls coming off the bench for now, but we will have some more eligible girls down the road,” Purugganan said. “As for the technical stuff, we are trying to become a better defensive team. We are always making adjustments and are constantly working on our rotations. We are working on a transition offense, but this year, we will emphasize defense. This, in turn, will create our offensive game. This year, we are seeing more of a competitive drive in our ladies. Once we get everyone together, working cohesively, we will be ready to attack league play.”
When firing on all cylinders, the Lady Raiders offense is one to be reckoned with, going 143-of-325 on two-point field goals, 42-of-184 on three-pointers and 106-of-153 on free throws – some pretty outstanding stats for such a small team.
Taylor Riley, a 5-foot-10 sophomore (averaging 16.5 points, 31-of-60 two-point field goals, 3-of-9 free throws and 16-of-50 three-pointers) returns to the squad this year, bringing with her an arsenal of game-time experience and the ability to play under pressure, making big plays in crunch time, right when the Raiders need her most.
“A positive this year is our defense. It is nothing like it was last year. It’s hard since we only have seven players, but we just work harder in practice and in games. The freshmen this year are faster and have a good idea of what to do on the floor. Our sophomores know more about getting back on defense, and they’re also quicker when it comes to adjusting to the other teams,” said an excited Riley.
Adding depth and versatility to the Lady Raiders roster is Unique Taufa’asau, a 5-foot-9 sophomore (averaging 16.5 points, 41-of-77 two-point field goals, 22-of-37 free throws and 3-of-9 three-pointers). She can play physical in the paint, and she is an effective perimeter shooter when called upon. During the summer, Taufa’asau faced a nagging injury, so she knows firsthand that good health is on the menu for success.
“This year, we expect to play aggressive defense, press the whole game and make effective traps. We want to reduce turnovers. We want to gain confidence on defense rather than looking only at offense. It is important that we grow from last season,” Taufa’asau said. “I was injured during the summer, so I am really focused on trying to get back in shape and getting stronger so I can help more on defense and be more physical in the paint.”
Kawehi Hagi, a 5-foot-9 freshman, leads the Raiders in scoring and also ranks sixth in NWAACC league scoring (averaging 18.5 points, 34-of-67 two-point field goals, 47-of-53 free throws and 4-of-20 three-pointers). It is no surprise that the Raiders often depend on Hagi to play the whole game, and she has embraced the opportunity to show her stuff in all four quarters, playing 227 minutes out of 280 minutes total. Hagi has found that being on a small team creates unique relationships that grow on and off the court.
“Every Sunday, we take time as a team to eat dinner together and talk about the week. We also spend time together in tutoring, so we really help each other to stay on top of our grades. All that shared time connects us as people, as a real team, and makes us one on the court,” Hagi said. “This season really looks positive to me. If we stick together and put our differences aside, this team can achieve anything, even make it to the NWAACC championship game.”
The Lady Raiders step to the court for their first regular season game on Jan. 7 at home against their cross-town rival, Tacoma Community College, with tip-off at 5 p.m. Catch the online broadcast of all Raiders home games at http://www.daveandmikeshow.com/pierce-college-womens-basketball.html, with pre-game coverage starting at 4:30 p.m.