One title is already in the bag, and a chance at the grand prize may be on the horizon for the Pierce College men’s basketball team.
Pierce clinched the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges’ West Division title on Feb. 16 with an 83-68 victory against Green River. It was the Raiders’ first regular season division crown since 2007.
The Raiders (22-4 overall) have won 13 straight. Their last loss came on Jan. 5, an 80-68 defeat against Tacoma Community College.
Pierce will be the No. 1 seed from the West Division at the NWAAC tournament, which will begin Saturday in Kennewick.
“Our goal is to bring back a banner,” Raiders head coach Bill Mendelson said. “Everybody’s goal is to be playing on that last day in the championship game.
“Two years ago, we got there and got second place. It’s a matter of who gets on a roll, and who gets hot. We have been playing extremely well the last two months.”
Mendelson said his players don’t care about who gets individual accolades as long as the team is victorious.
“This is the most fun team I have ever coached, and I have been coaching for 38 years,” he said. “I have never had a team more fun to watch than these guys. We get down and get after it defensively and are really an entertaining team to watch on the offensive end.
“We have 150 more assists than second-place team in our division (Tacoma). We share the ball, and everybody on the floor knows we’ve got to play great defense. It has been working well.”
The Raiders haven’t been affected by the loss of some of their top talent during significant stretches of the season like they had in the past.
“We have had two starters out almost every game once we started league play in January,” Mendelson said, adding that Blayne Clanton missed seven weeks with a broken hand, John Palmer had a bulging disk in his back, Gary Jacobs had a sprained ankle and Brayden Kuiper had a tendon problem in his foot. “Each time we had one of them go down, the rest of the guys really picked it up.
“We have seven guys who are legitimate starters,” Mendelson said. “I have never had seven guys on a team that I could consider a starter before. It has paid off for us when guys have gotten hurt.”
The Raiders’ leading scorer is sophomore guard Tyrell Lewis, who played for the high school powerhouse Rainier Beach Vikings.
Mendelson said he expects Lewis to earn NWAACC West Player of the Year honors when the season concludes.