Asst. Sports Editor
As the holiday season sneaks up on us, so has the start of basketball season. This winter, the Whittier Women’s Basketball Team takes center stage in the Graham Athletic Center (GAC) gym. The women tip off their season on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at home with a very tough Division III opponent in UC Santa Cruz. This will be a difficult test right out of the gate for the Poets. In a way, having this game as the first one of the season is important because it sets up a good baseline for the entire season.
The women will then navigate through a schedule of Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) games and games outside the conference. Unlike many other sports and many other schools, the Poets alternate between these SCIAC and non-conference games during their season. For example, the women play University of Redlands on Dec. 14, which is a SCIAC game. The next three games after that are against George Fox University, Whitworth University, and Amherst College. These schools are not in the SCIAC, which makes them non-conference games for the Poets. The next SCIAC game is on Jan. 7 against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. This huge break between conference games in the middle of the season is very rare. Usually, a school or team will play all of its non-conference games at the beginning of the season before facing its conference opponents. While this unusual schedule can be challenging, it can also provide the women with a much needed break between conference games down the stretch.
The Poets’ upperclassmen-heavy squad could prove pivotal for this challenging season. The women have four seniors and five juniors. Out of the 12 players on the team, nine of them are upperclassmen. The rest of the team is composed of one sophomore and two freshmen. This small portion of underclassmen makes for fewer returners in the near future.
The final game of the regular season is against Chapman, the same team the Poets start the SCIAC regular season against. After that, if the Poets qualify, the SCIAC tournament is on Feb. 23 and Feb. 25. The final stop after that is the NCAA Division III tournament. This is where the Poets hope to be: in the madness of March.
The women are coming into this season with a bit of expectation. Last year, the women won their first ever SCIAC postseason tournament championship. During this historic season, the women won their first SCIAC tournament game. In this season of firsts, the Poets played Whitman College in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament. Unfortunately, the Poets fell in the first round to nationally-ranked Whitman. However, this season, the women look to build on this success and return to the NCAA tournament. This group believes that they can build on the most recent season’s success.
Natalia Williams, one of five juniors on this year’s squad, looks to step into a large leadership role this season. If she can, the Poets could be a force to be reckoned with in the SCIAC.
Rhe Nae Leach is another stand-out who is returning for her sophomore season. She looks to build on a stellar freshman season last year. The 5’9” guard from Riverside, California played in 23 games for the Poets. She averaged 28 minutes per game. She finished with a 39.2 field goal percentage and 67 total points. For the Poets to make another deep run, they need Leach to find her rhythm as she did last year.
Another player who the Poets will lean on this season is senior Lainie James. Last year, the 5’11” forward played in 25 games, averaging 34 minutes per game. She also shot 41.3 percent from the field and scored 76 total points. The Poets hope James can continue this production in her senior season.
The women have a target on their backs now, as every team knows what they are capable of. The coaching staff believes they can get back to their recent success. “We are confident that we can do something special this year”. Many people around campus seem to be ready for this basketball season. The fun atmosphere coupled with the Poet’s recent on-court success makes for an exciting start of the season. Make sure you come down to the GAC to support!
Photo Courtesy of college.captain.u