Clark College basketball teams set for tipoff

Both squads of Penguins to open second seasons under Clark coaches

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Clark College basketball

Men’s season opener: 7 p.m. Nov. 16 against Bellevue College at the O’Connell Center.

Women’s season opener: Yakima Valley Tip-Off Tournament, Nov. 22-24 at Yakima.

With both head coaches entering their second season at Clark College, Al Aldridge and Alex Kirk are making the Penguins programs their own.

Clark's women return two players from last year's roster in guard Nikki Bond and forward Andrea Smith, and added a pair of sophomore transfers in forward Haley Grossman and guard/forward Brooke Bowen.

All four sophomores have local ties, but that was not necessarily by design.

"A couple of them fell in my lap," Aldridge said to laughter at the school's season tipoff media event Thursday at the O'Connell Center.

Smith played for Aldridge's powerhouse program at Prairie High School.

Bond was a high school teammate of both Bowen at Skyview for two seasons then Grossman at Battle Ground for two seasons. She and Smith were also summer teammates previously.

Smith averaged 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds a game as a freshman, while Bond scored 11.2 points a game.

Bowen played last season at Seattle Pacific University and Grossman at New Mexico Highlands before each decided that those NCAA Division II schools were not the proper places for them.

Clark's men are also light on returning players from last season and added trio of transfers with local ties and NCAA program experience.

Columbia River High School graduate Sean Price, an Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges West Region First Team All-Star guard who averaged 20.9 points a game, and forward Ronalds Elksnis are the only players back from last season's roster.

Freshman guard Paul Golden, originally from Wagoner, Okla., played with Elksnis at La Jolla Prep in California, giving the team a little extra familiarity. It also helps that Golden was on campus last year redshirting.

Hockinson High School graduate Josh Hall, a forward, comes to Clark after a redshirt season at NCAA Division I Cal Poly.

At the NCAA Division II level, guard/forward Max Livingston of Lake Oswego, Ore., spent one redshirt season and one season playing at Hawaii Pacific, and sophomore forward Collin Spickerman (Jesuit High) played a season at Alaska-Anchorage.

Kirk said part of his pitch to those players was what he called a "redemption song" to play near home and show people that their work has paid off while continuing their education.

Others with local area ties are Hall's brother Hayden, who played his senior year at Portland's Jefferson High School, and Frank Norman, a graduate of Portland's Benson Tech.

Both coaches also stressed that they want — and now have — players who value academics as well as their basketball careers.

Clark College women

The Penguins finished 17-13 overall last season, splitting four games at the NWAACC tournament with an opening-round win. Their 15-11 regular season mark included a 13-3 slate in the NWAACC West.

Aldridge said the last year has given him the opportunity to recruit the athletes — and students — he wants to mold the Penguins into the kind of team he wants to put on the floor.

"Because we had time to recruit the kind of players we wanted, we're not really changing anything this year," he said. "I think we have more skilled players at the positions that we need in order to do and accomplish what we want to accomplish, both offensively and defensively."

Clark will continue to push tempo, shoot 3-pointers and apply pressure defense, Aldridge said — perhaps pressing even more with better depth this season as he expects to rotate in all of his players to maintain the pressure. That will make staying healthy important, he noted. Aldridge also said that the Penguins need to get better at not letting opponents take them out of their tempo game.

The sophomores said that having played together in the past helps with cohesiveness in the present.

"It definitely does," Bond said. "It brings back memories. You can see that connection out on the court ... Knowing how each of us plays, and what we can and cannot do on the court, helps with that connection."

While they have been teammates, they have also been opponents — and that helps, too.

"From playing against each other, we also know how competitive each of us are," Bowen said. "We all know how we act on the court, at least us four sophomores. The freshmen are still adjusting, and we're adjusting to them."

One of the team's six freshmen is Camas High School graduate Sierra Brown, meaning half the roster consists of Clark County products. Four of the other freshmen are from Washington, and one from Hawaii.

Seated at a table with two teammates and a coach who won state championships in high school, Bond said her goal for this season is know what it feels like to win a title.

"I personally have not won a championship, ever," Bond said. "Obviously, Al and (Smith) both have experience at that level, and Brooke, as well. For me, I just want to win an NWAACC championship — and I want us all to enjoy it, and I want the freshmen to have that experience of winning an NWAACC championship. We just need to figure out little puzzle pieces how to get there. That's what we're doing right now."

Clark College men

The Penguins were 14-11 overall last season, 7-9 in NWAACC West play, and missed qualifying for the postseason tournament.

Kirk said it was a "not easy, but necessary" learning experience in establishing a program. He and his players believe that can turn around quickly.

"I think any time you bring in a lot of new guys, which is kind of the nature of the beast a this level, the beginning is always an adjustment — learning a new style, becoming familiar not only with each other but with the coaching staff and the way we're trying to do things is difficult," the coach said. "I think these guys have adjusted well."

The primary source of Kirk's optimism is the unselfishness he sees in this year's Penguins, valuing the team over individual achievements. Kirk said he is giving the players more freedom to be creative rather than "robotic" on the court — just freeing up the Penguins to play unselfishly and play hard, leading to success.

Golden said the players are figuring out how they fit together so they can surprise people who might not have high expectations for the Penguins.

"In prep school and high school, you might be faster than everybody or quicker, but when you move up to the college level, it's even in those areas," he said. "Guys are bigger, stronger, faster — so you have to find your niche and try to figure out what you do well and put it together with the rest of the team and play your role and all together."

Livingston said his experience at HPU taught him that mental toughness and being ready for the grind of a long college basketball season are crucial for success at a higher level. Asked to name three characteristics that will define the Penguins this season, he listed intensity, positive encouragement and toughness.

"It's been exciting," he said. "There's been a lot of changes over the past couple of weeks. We've dealt with a little adversity, but we're coming together and we're really excited about this year and what we can do together. I think we've got all the talent in the world, and we're just starting to build our chemistry. When we get playing together, we'll be able to do a lot."

After not playing last season, Josh Hall is looking forward to getting back on the court for real.

"Having the opportunity to actually get to play is going to be a huge thing for me to kind of bring that enjoyment of the game back," he said. "I didn't really lose that, but playing games is the fun part. Being able to do that is kind of rejuvenating and exciting, just even thinking about it. That's what I'm excited about."