Without a doubt, the College of the Redwoods women's basketball season of 2011-12 was a great story, one that was worthy of Hollywood. The prior season of the CR women's program finished with a overall record of 1-22. Head coach Doug Oliveira, a well-known name in local basketball circles, went about reviving the program featuring mostly local talent. This year's team put in hard work in the offseason, had a promising preseason, but faced serious issues with injuries halfway through the schedule. By late December, the team was down to just six players with much of the schedule still to be played.
Those six players, all products of Humboldt/Del Norte schools, took area basketball fans on a marvelous journey as they racked up the wins and challenged for the league title of the Golden Valley Conference. Of the six local players, three were products of the Fortuna High Lady Huskies basketball program. Fortuna's Jain Tuey, (class of 2008), Lili Herrera (2010) and Allie Wipf (2011) were joined by Hoopa's Kin-sin-ta' Joseph, St Bernard's Darah Hill and Kristyn Rook from Del Norte High. Local basketball fans took notice of the team's success and those six girls became known as "Six Deep." The thrills and improbable wins the team racked up made their journey that much more unreal as the girls defied the odds and exceeded expectations.
Local basketball fans took notice and the crowds grew at CR home games. Six Deep's reputation soared when they pulled off an overtime victory over league rival Mendocino College. Despite pushing the game into overtime, CR lost multiple players to the fifth foul and got down to just three players as the game wound down. Somehow, the Corsairs held on for the win, bringing the team to a record of 12-7 at the time and a 4-1 record in league.
The big wins kept on coming whether on the road or in the friendly confines of the home gym. The Corsairs run continued all the way to the end of the regular season when they pulled off the most improbable win of the season. Hosting College of the Siskiyous with first place at stake, College of the Redwoods was facing the 19-2 Eagles, a team then sixth in the Northern California rankings. Falling behind early, the Corsairs fought back and tanked 12 three-point shots to pull out a 77-67 victory. The win catapulted CR into first place in league.
Unfortunately the Corsairs lost their regular season finale to Shasta College and fell back out of first place, denying Redwoods a league title. The Lady Corsairs finished the season with a loss in the playoffs but completed a 17-8 overall record and a 8-2 mark in league games, posting the best record of any CR women's team in history and the first winning season in 24 years. The Fortuna connection of Tuey, Herrera and Wipf formed half of the Six Deep squad and though each player had a different personality to bring to the team, all three girls showed a determination that carried them through tough spots on the basketball court and in life as well.
Tuey graduated from Fortuna High in 2008 and was recruited to play basketball by Shasta College. Joining a successful program, Tuey made her mark as a freshman however, a family tragedy led her to return home and for two years she did not play basketball. Tuey did however volunteer as a coach for her alma mater on the girls freshman team and took classes at CR. Seeing the game from a different perspective helped Tuey grow as a player, "Coaching gave me a better court awareness, I could see the court through the coaches eyes," she recently commented.
Being a leader on the basketball court was something that was instilled in Tuey from her years in the Fortuna Husky basketball program. "Jain was the leader and the heart of our outstanding 2007-08 team. a constant competitor who had only one gear, full speed," said former girls varsity head coach Mike Benbow. Tuey's sophomore season at CR was phenomenal; her 18.5 points per game led the conference in scoring and ranked her ninth in the state among sophomores. She was named to the Golden Valley Conference first team All-GVC and averaged 6.4 rebounds per game to go along with an average of three assists and three steals per game.
An excellent student and a student of the game, Tuey is looking to take her game to yet another level, hoping to transfer to a four year college and wants to teach math and perhaps coach basketball at the high school level someday. She is looking at schools in Oregon that are interested in her court prowess and Humboldt State as well; playing close to home and in front of friends and family is a huge attraction to her.
Herrera graduated Fortuna High in 2010 and along with former teammate Jade Hudson, she ventured south in hopes of playing basketball as Santa Rosa JC. Facing a redshirt offer and no promises by the Santa Rosa program, Herrera returned home to Fortuna. When CR's Oliveira came a-calling, Herrera was happy to jump back into basketball. Herrera was well known in her high school playing days as a "full speed ahead" type of player with a level of toughness not expected in such a small package. Like Tuey, Herrera also dealt with family loss along the way but never lost the tenacity she brought to the game of basketball.
Herrera averaged 14.4 points per game in her full season at CR, adding 4.5 assists and 4.2 steals per game. Those kind of numbers ranked her with the top players in the state and she earned All-GVC Honorable Mention in her freshman season. If there were rankings for "motor" and "toughness" categories, Herrera would surely rank at the top of those distinctions as well. Working towards a career in nursing is a top priority for the future, but first Herrera is looking towards the next season of Corsairs basketball. "Lili provided inspiration for the team, exuding an inner drive and a passion for the game that is contagious, her tenacity on defense set the tone for the team," boasted Oliveira.
Wipf had a season that exceeded expectations. She averaged 15.5 points per game and 11.9 rebounds at the junior college level. Those numbers put her among the best in the state, as she ranked 11th place in rebounding. She achieved a double-double (double figures in scoring and rebounding) in 18 of CR's 25 games. Though not a natural post player at just under six feet tall, Wipf was given the job on the vertically challenged Corsairs team. With an ability to run the floor, handle the ball and shoot like a guard, Wipf gave opponents fits trying to deal with her all-around game. Like everyone else on the CR roster, she was part of an interchangeable system and was a good fit for the up-tempo game.
"Allie came to spring conditioning and amazed me with her foot quickness, she dominated the post with her quickness and gave our vertically challenged team an inside presence," said Oliveira. "She anchored our defense by accepting the challenge of defending the best post players of the other teams and again her quickness and tenacity usually prevailed."
Wipf was selected first team All Conference and will be returning next year for CR. Wipf wants to complete her nursing degree and possibly play basketball at a four year college.
The fact that three of the starting players of the successful College of the Redwoods basketball team were former Fortuna High Lady Huskies speaks well of the program in recent years. Fortuna has consistently produced winning teams that have enabled players to chase their dreams of playing at the next level.
"The last defining comment about the Fortuna Connection is recognition of their ability to make big plays at "crunch time" of close games, each one propelled our team to wins in critical games," said Oliveira.