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Prairie grad Walling rekindles love for basketball at Western Washington

Sophomore helped Vikings reach D-II national title game

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 30, 2022, 7:02pm
3 Photos
Western Washington's Brooke Walling (15) is introduced prior to the NCAA Division II women?s championship game Friday, March 25, 2022, at Birmingham, Ala.
Western Washington's Brooke Walling (15) is introduced prior to the NCAA Division II women?s championship game Friday, March 25, 2022, at Birmingham, Ala. (Michael Wade photo) Photo Gallery

Western Washington’s women’s basketball team fell short of winning the NCAA Division II national title last week, but Brooke Walling came home with good memories, big-game performances, and at least one keepsake item, albeit temporary: a black eye.

“That was actually my first bloody nose,” the former Prairie High School standout said from Bellingham earlier this week. “We took a beating in that game.”

It happened on an inadvertent forearm to her face during last Friday’s 85-72 loss to Glenville State (W.Va) in the Division II title game at Birmingham, Ala., the same game where Walling posted a career-best 27 points and 12 rebounds.

As national runners-up, Walling is all smiles reflecting back on her first season playing for Western, and being part of a team that led the Vikings to their best-ever finish on a national stage.

“It’s so special to me,” Walling said. “I’m so honored to be a part of this program. I think that what we did this year, it’s proof that those before us worked so hard and we’re just carrying on the legacy and we just bumped up the accomplishment of this program just one more level.

“Hopefully, one day, we’ll bring home a national championship.”

In a season where Western had games canceled because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, played just eight home games, and lost its starting point guard mid-season to injury, it won five straight postseason games to reach the national title game against the nation’s top-scoring offense (96 points per game). The winning streak also included upsets of higher-seeds Valdosta State and North Georgia at the Elite Eight tournament.

Playing on a big stage isn’t new to Walling. She was a 1,000-pointer scorer in high school, and as a senior in 2019, led Prairie to the Class 3A state title. She said that experience three years ago felt similar to gearing up to play for a national title.

No nerves, all excitement.

And it’s a level of joy for basketball that Walling that was missing prior to arriving in Bellingham last summer as a transfer from Division I Fresno State. She played in 56 games over two seasons for the Bulldogs, and said COVID-19 helped her to re-evaluate what she wanted out of her college basketball experience.

At one point, she considered giving up basketball.

“I was honestly kind of struggling with basketball and not sure if I wanted to play anymore,” Walling said. “I think for a good moment, I didn’t love it anymore. That kind of took me back, and I was like, ‘Woah, that’s not OK.’ I should be excited that it’s game day, and I wasn’t. That’s when something needed to change.”

Once in the transfer portal, a handful of Division I programs contacted Walling, but the biggest assist in getting the 6-foot-3 sophomore to Western came from guard Mason Oberg, a former Union High standout. Oberg, who missed this season with the Vikings recovering from an ACL injury, helped convince Walling that Bellingham was the place for her. The two are now roommates.

“From then on out, like I just knew that Western was where I wanted to be and it worked out,” she said. “I just played for the national championship.”

Soon, Walling found her love for basketball again — and her game. After averaging 9.7 points and 7.6 rebounds during the regular-season, Walling took her game up a notch in the postseason averaging 16 points and 8.7 rebounds. She was named the West Regional All-Tournament MVP and part of the Elite Eight All-Tournament team.

Classes for spring quarter began Tuesday at Western; Walling is studying to become a high school math teacher. She said she hasn’t touched a basketball since last Friday’s loss to Glenville State, but in her reflections on the season, she’s already thinking about what’s ahead. Western graduates three seniors.

“I’m really excited for next season,” she said, “because we know what it takes to get to that point. And I think if we work super hard and we play the way we know we can play, I think we can get back there.”