Women’s basketball sets sights on championship

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Sophomore forward Kelly Hardeman, left, looks to continue draining shots from downtown as she sank three against Cal Poly Pomona in a December game last season.
Courtesy: Holly Magnuson

The Cougars’ women’s basketball team is heading into this year’s season with high hopes and expectations. After last season’s team finished the year with a tie for third place in the highly competitive PacWest conference in its first season in NCAA Division II, there is reason to believe the squad will be right back in the hunt for a conference title this season. On top of that, the Cougars hope to end the season celebrating on the floor of Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., home of the NCAA Championships.

“Our goals are to win the NCAA Championships, be the National Champions there and win our league,” head coach T.J. Hardeman said.

This year’s team will return two starters: junior point guard Sullivan Ziegler, who led the PacWest in assists per game, and last year’s PacWest Freshman of the Year, Kelly Hardeman. Another returner who will be looked to for strong play is sophomore forward Lauren Gilster.

Hardeman, the leading returner in scoring and rebounding, is looking forward to improving her already impressive array of skills. Averaging 13.3 points per game and sinking a total of 66 three-pointers last year helped her win PacWest Freshman of the Year honors.

“Last year I basically just shot and didn’t drive a lot. I’d like to broaden my game, which comes with being confident and not being a freshman anymore. I’m excited to play a different role: still shoot a lot but contribute in other ways too,” Hardeman said.

Two other players who will be looked to this season are transfers Allison Greene, a junior guard from Portland State, and Sendy Valles, a junior forward from Long Beach State.

“Allison was the second leading scorer at Portland State last year,” Hardeman said. “She will bring real versatility. She’s a real good passer, penetrator and goes to the basket very well. She will be very hard to guard. Sendy brings an added dimension of a player that has guard skills and big skills. She can be outside and shoot and go inside and score too.”

Greene, who comes from a struggling Portland State program, is excited to play for a school with a history of success.

“I just want to win. I’m hoping to contribute and help us win and hopefully win a championship. I’ll do anything the team needs me to do,” said Greene.

The coach believes the mix of returning players, transfers and incoming freshmen will be very solid. The team has bonded well from an offseason filled with crossfit workouts, retreats and even laser tag.

“When you have a team that has new experiences together, it helps bond them and form a team,” Hardeman said. “We have tried to do a lot of that. Sharing where we’ve come from and where we’re going, we’ve tried to do quite a bit of that so everyone feels like there is a common goal of us working hard, being selfless and what can we do to build the team up. Everybody here has that idea of [putting] the team first.”

The women’s basketball team will start the season with several exhibition games. The first, Tuesday Nov. 5, will be against old rival Biola University and the second, Wednesday Nov. 13, will be at Westmont. The regular season game will be on Saturday, Nov. 16 against Cal Poly Pomona at the Felix Event Center.