February 26 is a date that will go down in Poet athletics history, as the women’s basketball team won its first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship tournament in history.
To the naked eye, winning SCIAC must have meant that a team was always successful from the beginning of the season up until the last conference game was played. This was not the case for the Poets’ women’s basketball team.
The season began with great adversity as the Poets headed into their conference games with a record of 2 – 4. Out of the four games lost, two were from UC schools who were also Division 1 teams. As this may seem unimportant to the average eye, the Poets began the season playing against two opponents who have more financial stability, more resources for improvement, and more collegiate experience as Division 1 athletes are prioritized to excel in their sport before academics and their outside life.
Although athletics here at Whittier College are not exceptionally funded like Division 1 programs, experiences like this shape, discipline, and motivate athletes in all levels of competition. For the basketball team, this was no exception as SCIAC was only weeks away and one common goal was only furthered cemented: a conference championship.
As SCIAC occurs, the 2 – 4 record at the beginning of the season steadily became to a 14 – 8 record along with a place in the Postseason Tournament Semifinals.
The Poets would be playing as underdogs based on their regular season record with both tournament games being away. The first game was against a tough Redlands roster. With each team winning one game against each other, Redlands had the slight advantage of playing on their campus, in their own gym; the Poets however, had other plans. With a game that required double overtime, tension grew and adrenaline was at a maximum capacity. With a five point cushion, the Poets secured the upset victory and advanced to the SCIAC Tournament Final.
The final had both different circumstances and outcomes. Whittier’s last opponent came in the likes of a team that had beaten them earlier in the season through an overtime win: Pomona-Pitzer. Like the game against Redlands, this matchup went to overtime as competition was nearly identical throughout the end of regulation.
In a game tournament final that would define the season from ring or bust, the Poets scored 18 straight points with only one field goal given up to Pomona-Pitzer. Third year Guard Lainie James had an overtime performance with six points, helping expand the Poets win by 16 and obtain their first SCIAC championship.
As the Poets concluded their astonishment season against Whitman College in Texas, they were led by 5th year senior and SCIAC athlete of the year, Teani White. An interview was prepared short notice before the Poets NCAA tournament, and although a loss transpired, the women’s basketball team here at Whittier College are still SCIAC champions. White was able to share the in and outs of being an athlete here at Whittier College along with the showcasing a we, not me mentally that all sports here should focus on.
Teani’s interview was split into three categories all athletes use in order to be at their best: preparation, performance, recovery:
How long have you played basketball for?
“I have played basketball since I was eight years old, so around fourteen years.”
Talk about the change in routine before each game over the years? Do you still prepare the same or are pregame routines different now?
“My pregame routines have stayed fairly consistent throughout the years. I always eat some kind of pasta or rice the day before, I get shots up the morning of game day and of course get my pregame Starbucks coffee.”
At the collegiate level, competition is high and anyone can lose at any given time. How do you manage to stay alert and focus throughout the whole season?
“In college, you learn to really value each game because each one could be the game that makes or breaks your season. You never want to leave your playoff chances in the hands of another team, so I think keeping that in the back of my mind keeps me alert and focused despite how fatigue the body can get throughout the long season. Along with this, just knowing that basketball only lasts so long with the fact that most don’t have the opportunity to play at the collegiate level reminds me to always play with gratitude and motivates me, wanting to give more than the play before.”
As you and your team compete, how do you control the game offensively?
“Momentum plays a great role in the game of basketball; however, playing at our pace and clock management is crucial in controlling the game: both how we feel as we play and the numbers that the scoreboard reflects upon. This is something I always try to remind my teammates, especially when I can feel momentum turn as opponents apply pressure and/or when we are in need of a spark.”
It took two overtimes to beat Redlands and overtime to win the SCIAC tournament. What gave your team the edge in late game situations? “Conditioning played a great amount in the overtime matches. I believe we are one of the better conditioned teams in our league and it shows when you are fourth plus minutes into a game. Playing comfortably without allowing the “pressure” or “hype” of overtime affects our play. When you win a tournament game that requires double overtime against a team like Redlands, a certain level of confidence can be felt throughout the locker room and that same feeling ran through our shoes and jerseys as we entered another overtime in the championship game. When you combine the conditioning, the poise, and the confidence in a championship game, you are rewarded a SCIAC championship.”
Your team lost 8 games out of the 24 played so far. How does a leader like you tell teammates and coaching staff after a loss? And in what ways did you see improvement as a whole from the start of the season all the way to the SCIAC Championship game?
“From the beginning, we always had that competitive spirit, but learning how to use that to our advantage was a process, but something that became beneficial to us by the end of the regular season. Over the course of the season, you could tell the team chemistry improved a lot as well. That has a major effect on team play, so those games which we lost really exposed what was missing from our team and it more often than not came down to attitude and energy, two things we are in control of. All and all, learning to control what we can control was the biggest challenge for this team, but we overcame it.”
The SCIAC athlete of the year is extremely impressive. How do you manage to rest your body and keep it performing at a high level?
“It’s definitely a hard balance between getting the proper rest and recovery while still putting in the extra work; however, COVID allowed me take my recovery process seriously and improved on areas such as sleep, stretching, and nutrition. I didn’t realize the impact it had on performance, but I definitely think making rest and recovery more of a priority allowed me to play at a high level consistently throughout the season.”
Any last words to young women out there interested in possibly playing for the Whittier College Basketball Team?
“My last words would be this: put your all into everything that you do. Whatever you invest your time and energy into, make it worth everything. Always try to be the best at it: the classroom, the court, the clubs or outside activities. Never get complacent and as long as you continue to improve yourself the slightest bit each day, progress will show in the long run.”
With a SCIAC Championship ring equipped to the Poets Basketball team, there is no ceiling for the success that this specific group of young women can achieve on and off the court. As for future recruits looking at Whittier College, Teani White is a prime example of what it means to be a Poet.