Triumph and Tragedy: Former Bearcat Steen Wins Championship in First Collegiate Season

BACK TO BACK: Kiara Steen Helped Lead Wenatchee Valley to an NWAC Title After Winning a Championship With W.F. West in 2018

By Matt Baide

mbaide@chronline.com

The hardest objective to accomplish for any sports team is to win a championship. It’s even more difficult to win back to back championships with two different teams at two different levels of competition.

Don’t tell Kiara Steen that though, as she was able to achieve just that, helping Wenatchee Valley College capture the 2019 NWAC women’s basketball title, just a year removed from winning a high school state championship with W.F. West in 2018.

“I just remember the team and that feeling of winning was like the biggest joy of my life,” Steen said while reflecting on the Bearcats’ title in 2018. “It was the craziest experience to be a part of but I really remember having to work for that win when we were down the whole game.”

After claiming the crown against Archbishop Murphy in the 2018 state title game in Yakima, Steen was recruited by Wenatchee head coach Rachel Goetz. Steen was sold because the visit felt like home.

“I love it over here. I’m actually staying this summer because I love it more than the west side,” Steen said. “It doesn’t rain here. I’m not much of a rain person.”

When she finally arrived in Wenatchee to begin her freshman campaign, it took her a while to get used to being away from home.

“My first few weeks at Wenatchee was difficult because I was missing home and then practices were extremely hard and I felt like so busy,” Steen explained. “It was nice that we started basketball a week before we started school but then once school kicked in, I felt like I had so much on my plate that it was kind of a hard transition but coach Goetz definitely made it so easy to handle those things.”

On the court, Steen knew her role would be as a leader at the point guard position. She had to adapt to a new style of play as opposed to the full court press and style of offense she was accustomed to with the Bearcats.

“When we first came, she (Goetz) said she liked how our high school team played and that’s how she wants her team to play and stuff but we didn’t do no trapping. High school, I was used to doing our pressing, 2-3, 1-3-1, our zone presses. At Wenatchee, we played straight man,” Steen said. “ I was used to pushing the ball and all that and coach Goetz, she definitely wanted us to push the ball but we had to play offense. At W.F. West, we didn’t really have to play offense.”

Steen noted that she still has trouble with Wenatchee’s style of play at times.

“I would say it was definitely harder for me then it was for the other girls because I think most of the other girls came from a school that played strictly man so I would sometimes get caught trying to go trap or leaving my man to go help a little too much and then our defensive style is for sideline-baseline,” Steen said. “That was really hard to remember every game, like even towards the end of the season. I still have trouble with it because I would want to try and force my girl into a trap or something but I wouldn’t have help.”

Steen played her first college game against Chemeketa on Nov. 16, 2018, starting and playing 12 minutes. She scored four points and fouled out in a 69-56 win.

“I remember that, yep. That was not a good game for me, I kind of got in trouble a little bit for the fouls but it was good for me to see how ticky-tack the fouls are called in college,” Steen said. “I think we could definitely get away with it more in high school. I know I grew a lot towards the end of the season with watching my reaching and my fouls. I guess it was good it happened in the first game.”

Steen started all 30 games this season and averaged 28 minutes per game and shot 33.9 percent from the field. She tallied 6.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

During the regular season, Steen had several outstanding games. She scored double digit points for the first time on Dec. 1 against Clark, recording 14 points and five steals in a 78-47 win. Steen scored a season high 20 points against North Idaho on Jan. 16 in a 78-69 win and scored 16 points and six assists in an 86-72 win over Bellevue on Dec. 8.

Wenatchee finished 13-3 in the East Conference standings, placing second behind Big Bend and at one point, had a win streak of 15 games.

In the NWAC tournament, Wenatchee rolled past Clackamas 71-46 in the Sweet 16. The Knights earned an 87-75 win over Peninsula in the Elite 8, with Steen scoring 11 points, the most for her in an NWAC tournament game.

“I feel like state, there was a lot more people there in high school. NWAC’s, I don’t know. It kind of felt more like just another game,” Steen said. “We definitely had to practice a lot more and every day. Even before games, we’d have practices, so I don’t know. I think I just felt it was more of a game in college. In high school, I felt like this is it, this is the final moment.”

Wenatchee returned to Everett the following weekend and won 84-81 against Lane in the Final Four for a spot in the championship game.

In the title game on March 17, Steen scored four points to go with three rebounds and six assists in a 74-70 victory.

“I thought it went great. We executed our game plan really well, all weekend we did. Umpqua, they were a tough team,” Steen said. “They had the best shooter in the NWAC, and they even had a big post that could shoot it. We had to play all out and that was probably one of our hardest games. We all played as a team together and it was perfect that it was our last game.”

When asked which title she enjoyed more, it wasn’t an easy answer for Steen.

“It’s hard to say, they were totally different experiences. It doesn’t really feel any different that I won it back to back except that I’m going to have two rings which is pretty cool,” Steen said. “(I) can’t say there’s a big difference in the feeling but just like at the collegiate level, that was just such a big accomplishment and hope to do it again next year.”

When assessing her overall play from this season, Steen wasn’t too pleased.

“I’m definitely looking forward to next year. I don’t think I played very good this year but I didn’t do terrible,” Steen said. “Coming in as a freshman and starting was definitely my main goal and I think I was more of the facilitator. I mean personally, I could do better. it wasn’t my best season but that’s alright. We won.”

Steen noted that she is trying to improve her defense from this past season while still adjusting to the style of play under coach Goetz.

“The biggest adjustment that I’m still working on is definitely I’m going to have to learn to guard-guard more than anything. When there are some guards that are a lot taller that play point guard or like a 2 or a 3, and sometimes like at the NWAC tournament, they would take advantage of that and try and post me up in the paint,” Steen said. “I would either foul or they’d score on me. That’s going to be definitely one of my struggles and I’m going to, this summer, definitely work on that and get better at not letting anyone come into the post as a guard.”

Although this season was filled with a lot of great moments, there was one moment during this year that was filled with tragedy.

Rachel Odima, a teammate and roommate of Steen’s during her freshman year, lost her life in a car accident on May 26.

“I think some of us are getting tattoos for her because we were all going to get team tattoos of our championship together but now I think we’re kind of making it a ‘For Rachel’ kind of thing,” Steen said. “I think next year, the whole team, we might all get yellow shoes because that was her favorite color. It’s going to be like a reminder every day. Next year, we’re going to have her jersey hung up in our gym and in our locker room and it’s going to be hard but it will be good memories of course.”

That experience, along with her entire freshman year, was a big growing experience for Steen as a person.

“Our coach is more about growing as a person. Basketball is definitely a huge part but she always says it’s more than basketball and it was just crazy. She would just take little moments and always turn them into something big and show you growth,” Steen said. “As a person, I definitely matured a lot. I learned to live on my own which is kind of cool but getting thrown into it was kind of scary but I think I learned a lot about myself this year than if I would have stayed at home.”

Steen has one more season in Wenatchee before she’ll move on and she hopes to continue playing after next season.

It’s going to be tough to win back-to-back-to-back titles, but Steen is excited about the challenge.

“I’m excited, everyone is going to be coming after Wenatchee Valley because they don’t want us to win again,” Steen said. “That’s how we were against Walla Walla this year but I’m excited. I think we have another shot too for sure.”

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