I check in here every once in awhile; have seen several games but haven't had time to write about them. And due to snow or getting a cold or both I haven't been able to get out and see UPS in person, frustratingly I've only seen them on the video broadcasts. Clearly a very impressive recruiting and development job that Loree Payne has done. Emily Sheldon was basically impossible to replace, but as you say, the Loggers have in addition to last year's freshman sensation Jackson two more frosh sensations this year. They are a tough team this year; losing do-everything senior Noren after this season will hurt but their up-and-coming players look sensational. Noren's the only senior playing major minutes so UPS looks tough for both the present and the future.
Whitman's been less surprising; they were expected to be a good team and are, though a step down from UPS. They had a hiccup with two losses in a row and their victory at George Fox was closer than the score would indicate. Michelle Ferenz seemed to do some experimenting with her starting line-up, benching both McGarity and Poe for the George Fox game in favor of first-years Makana Stone and Mady Burdett. That may have helped in Stone's case; she looks like another Hailey Ann Maeda, slightly undersized but a significant inside presence. Burdett though seems slower, shorter, and less of a playmaker than Poe, who returned to the starting lineup.
Aside from UPS shaking off the loss of Sheldon with brilliant young players, the other intriguing question to me has been George Fox. The loss of seniors Benner, Naluai, and Blizzard was clearly going to hurt them but they always have a corps of young talent so the question is how good they are and how quickly they will develop. I think we're seeing that they're good enough that the team deserves a tournament slot but they are looking distinctly like the third best team in the NWC. Frost still looks to me like the fastest player in the conference and a tremendous ball-hawk, but hasn't developed into a big scorer or finisher. Kaycee Creech to my eyes has been mainly a defensive player but she has developed her offensive game to the point that she's third on the team in scoring. Looking at the young players, freshman Emily Spencer went to the same high school as Frost and shares her ability to get massive numbers of steals. George Fox has a veritable army of young tallish promising-looking forwards or wings including Hailey, Haley, Haylee, and Bailey: Hailey Hartney did a significant amount of ballhandling against Whitworth, perhaps hinting that she might have a future as a tall point guard reminiscent of a former Bruin PG named Hayley: 5'10" Cusick. But against the tougher Whitman defense Hartney did less ballhandling. A promising-looking shorter player is freshman Kylin Collman; she reminds me of Whitman's Alysse Ketner as a freshman: both are unafraid to shoot from long range and equally unafraid to drive among the taller players.
Also intriguing has been Lewis and Clark, who've had some tough seasons since the days of Kristina Williams and company. Well Kristina's back (as an assistant coach to new head coach Pam Findlay) and Lewis and Clark has been showing signs of a renaissance. They upset Whitman and took George Fox to overtime. They're a team that seems to have only one all-conference level player in Afolabi (I thought Leith might get to that level but she seems more to be a solid starter but not all-conference) and some decent support from Anderson and Hogman. I think their improvement has mainly come from Deja Nicholas, who was a transfer last year but played little, and who this year has added speed and the ability to attack on the dribble to the Pio's offense, and some decent play from some of their big people especially Lauren Wood and Rachel Cox. Janessa Willie shows signs of developing nicely her second year; I don't even recall what she did last year but this year she's started a few games and provides both an outside shooting threat and the ability to drive.
Their record reflects what I think is their standing as clearly the fourth best team in the conference. Their future looks more cloudy than the other top teams' though because their best player and their sparkplug, Afolabi and Nicholas, are both seniors.
Their overtime loss to George Fox was one of the most exciting NWC games that I've yet seen. They'd trailed by as many as 20 points and were down by 8 points with less than 3 minutes left. But steals by Leith, Nicholas, and Hogman (and a tie-up by Afolabi) brought them back to a tie and overtime. They fell just short but showed they've come a long way from their recent lean years.