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Commentary: Mission trip to Kenya ‘humbling’ for Northwest Christian’s Dani Baker

January 13, 2019

Taking a mission trip to Kenya with other Northwest Christian University athletes over Christmas break will certainly impact Dani Baker more than missing a couple of basketball games.

Baker, a 5-foot-10 junior forward for the NCU women’s basketball team, returned to Eugene Thursday following the trip. The NCU contingent spent time in Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) and Eldoret.

“It was humbling, just humbling,” the 21-year-old Baker, a former North Douglas High School standout, said. “It was an amazing experience. Life-changing. It opened my eyes a lot. Everyone should leave the country at some point to see another part of the world.”

Baker appreciated the hospitality and friendliness of the Kenyans.

“We saw how welcoming people can be — at a place where they have nothing,” she said. “Americans, in their opinion, have everything. They don’t have beds to sleep on. They have so much positivity and their love for God was inspiring.”

The NCU group visited huts and houses.

“We taught them about the gospel and learned about their lives,” Baker said.

And there was some luggage lost during the flight to Kenya.

“Didn’t have luggage for four days,” Baker said. “Got to take cold showers and hand-wash our clothes.”

On the basketball court, Baker has been a key reserve for the Beacons (7-12, 4-6 Cascade Collegiate Conference).

Baker — who was the Class 1A Co-Player of the Year as a senior at North Douglas — didn’t have much time to recuperate. Northwest Christian traveled to Ashland and lost to Southern Oregon 57-45 on Friday. It plays Saturday in Klamath Falls against Oregon Tech.

Heading into the weekend, Baker was averaging 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 16 games. She was shooting 37 percent from the field, 33 percent from 3-point range and 71 percent from the foul line while averaging 16.7 minutes a game.

Baker, from Sutherlin, has led the Beacons in scoring in two games. Her best performance came against Pacific Union (California) on Nov. 9, when she had a season-high 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in a 77-56 nonconference victory.

She had 15 points on five 3-pointers and added three assists in an 82-50 CCC win at Evergreen Dec. 29.

“This year has probably been my best (college) year so far,” Baker said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. Our new coach (Chad Meadors) has worked us as hard as I’ve ever worked.”

Meadors replaced Heath Alexander, who guided the Beacons to the NAIA Division II national championship tournament for the first time last year. NCU finished 23-7 overall.

“It’s a learning year, a rebuilding year,” Baker said of a team which has only three seniors. “We’re trying to build as much team chemistry as we can, and hoping to finish in the top four in league and make the league tournament. I like him (Meadors), I think he’s got a good program going.”

KALLI FRIEZE: The North Douglas product is starting for the Linn-Benton women this season after being a reserve for Northwest Athletic Conference tournament runner-up Umpqua last year as a freshman.

The 5-10 Frieze is an off-guard and team captain for the Roadrunners (8-7, 2-1 South Region), who lost 85-68 to seventh-ranked UCC on Wednesday night.

Frieze has started all 15 games for LBCC, averaging 9.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. She’s shooting 36 percent from the field, 27 percent from beyond the arc and 70 percent from the charity stripe.

Frieze had 10 points and three steals in 23 minutes against the Riverhawks. She played with current UCC players Taylor Stricklin, Darian Mitchell and Kim Ortiz last year. Mitchell and Ortiz redshirted as freshmen.

“I just had to keep my same mindset. I was ready to play,” replied Frieze, when asked if she any extra emotion playing against the Riverhawks. “Umpqua played a really hard game. Our biggest problem was the rebounds — they killed us (42-14).”

Mitchell, out of Douglas High in Winston, led the Riverhawks with 28 points and 15 rebounds.

“Darian played really good offensively and defensively,” Frieze said. “She was crashing the boards. I’m proud of her.”

Frieze says she wasn’t unhappy at UCC and felt she became a better player during her one season there under Dave Stricklin.

“(Linn-Benton) offers a program (diagnostic imaging) that Umpqua doesn’t have,” she said. “It’s definitely a big change (moving to another school). I had to re-learn a new program. But the experience so far has been really good. There’s just a lot of positive energy and I’m happy to be there. I really like my teammates.”

Frieze has reunited with former North Douglas classmates and teammates Jhana Lane and Sabrina MacDowell at Linn-Benton.

Lane didn’t play against Umpqua. MacDowell is out for the season with an injury.

“It’s nice getting to play basketball again with them, especially Jhana,” Frieze said. “She got hurt our senior year (at North Douglas).”

Frieze believes this will likely be her final basketball season.

“Basketball has been a huge part of my life,” she said. “It’s made me grow as a person.”

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