It was during a recruiting trip to Las Vegas, that gambler's paradise, that new Peninsula coach Ali Crumb found half of her roster for the 2009-2010 campaign.
Crumb and the Pirates are hoping plenty of luck is on their side as they prepare for the rigors of an NWAACC schedule with nine freshmen and just one returning sophomore.
"Preseason will be better for them than anyone in the NWAACC," Crumb says. "Right now, they're hungry."
Led by returnee Dena Houser, the Pirates feature a mix of players from California, Alaska, Nevada and hometown Port Angeles. As of two months ago, none of the players had dribbled a ball, made a pass or slapped a high-five with any of their teammates.
Getting this kind of green team ready would be a tall order for even a veteran coach. Crumb, a Port Angeles High grad who played at Peninsula from 2003-2005 - leading them to Peninsula's only division championship in women's sports and setting a school record for assists - got the job in June when coach Julie Stewart stepped down.
After finishing her playing career at Western Oregon University, she took an assistant coaching job at Peninsula for the past two years.
She says the toughest part of being a new coach is nonbasketball stuff.
"Ninety percent of it is not about basketball at all," Crumb says. "There are 10 different perspectives ... (and) I'm working on getting them comfortable living situations. I learn something new every day."
Crumb and the Pirates are learning how to live without nearly every piece from the team that went 19-11, finished second in the NWAACC North and made it to the postseason tourney last season. Gone are do-it-all combo guard Sam Flett (top 10 in the NWAACC in points, assists and steals), posts Brittany Bridges and Brooke Helpenstell, starting guards Krystal Tolliver and Britney Yamane and a host of key role players.
Back is Houser, the 5-foot 8-inch guard who averaged nearly five points, 2.5 rebounds and a steal-and-a-half per game last season. Houser often was Stewart's top option off the bench, bringing high energy and a solid three-point stroke.
"Dena, she's in great shape," says Crumb, who may use Houser in any of the five positions on the court. "I've never seen someone in such good shape. Physically, she's phenomenal."
Among the freshmen are Blair Musgrove, a versatile 5-foot 11-inch forward from Long Beach, Calif.; Jemisha Collins, a quick point guard and graduate of California's nationally-ranked Long Beach Poly squad; Emily Garner, a 5-foot 9-inch forward from Alaska; Jamie Wycoff, a 5-foot 10-inch post and prep all-leaguer from California; Port Angeles High recruits Abby Schmid and Madigan Winters; and a trio of Las Vegas-area prep stars, Neomi Carter, Jasmine Jackson and Christian Reid.
"They are good athletes and they want to win," Crumb says. "It's fun to watch them grow so much."
Helping Crumb with coaching responsibilities is assistant coach Helpenstell, the star forward who helped the Pirates to the playoffs and scored 13 points per game in 2008-2009. Also lending a hand in practices is Bridges, the Pirate post whose rebounding, shot-blocking and outside stroke made the Pirates a formidable team the past two seasons.
In other words, a coaching staff of young, young and younger.
But Crumb likes her team's chances. The first-year coach says she's expecting this team to play well and possibly surprise some people.
"We want to get to the NWAACC tournament," she says. "We'll get these nine freshmen some experience. We're looking to do some damage in the NWAACC North."
The Pirates open nonconference play at the Clackamas Tournament in Oregon City, Ore., on Nov. 27.
Peninsula hosts Olympic on Jan. 2, the team's first conference game.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.
Peninsula College women's
Head coach: Ali Crumb (first year)
Assistant coach: Brooke Helpenstell
2008-2009 record: 13-3 in NWAACC North (second in division), 1-2 at NWAACC tourney; 19-11 overall
Outlook: Will turnover lead to turnovers? The Lady Pirates have more questions than answers early in the season, from a nearly all-new roster to nearly all-new coaching staff. Coaches Crumb and Helpenstell have their work cut out for them. The path to an NWAACC tourney looks rough.