Rebuilding a talented and young basketball team

Women’s basketball faces a season of growth and improvement as the team starts five freshmen and five juniors, only two of which played for the Cougars last season.

Last year, the Cougars went 28-4 in regular season play, 19-1 in conference games, won the conference title and made it to the first round of the playoffs.

After last season, the Cougars were in need of a new group of talent, losing eight seniors and one junior. One of the seniors, Kelly Hardeman, signed a professional contract with BK Amager, a professional women’s team in Denmark.

Head coach T.J. Hardeman noted the success the Cougars had last season as well as the challenge the team would face in trying to replicate it this year.

“We get better every day,” Hardeman said. “They don’t have as much of a fallback as in other years. We’ve seen a huge increase whenever we put the practice jerseys on or scrimmage somebody else.”

Hardeman spoke from experience and said that although the girls are getting better, it will be a slow process.

“It will be a fun year, but it will be a learning year. We will definitely be better at the end of the year,” Hardeman said.

The Cougars recruited several new players from high schools, junior colleges and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) level. Several of these players will be starters for APU in their first year at the school.

“It seems that at this point, [the old and new players are] getting along very well. They’re very much like a growing sisterhood,” Hardeman said. “They compliment each other and compete hard against each other.”

Hardeman said he wants the girls to aim for the PacWest championship again, believing that aspiring for anything less would be selling themselves short.

“We feel like that’s what we want to get to. We have good enough talent to get there. It’s gonna take a lot of work and who knows how quick that happens, but that’s our goal,” Hardeman said.

Despite their youth, they are a better offensive and shooting team this year. However, they are working to improve their defense, especially when it comes to rebounds.

“That’s an area where we’re working very hard, to try to show up our rebounding,” Hardeman said. “If we can do that, we shoot the ball well and we’ve got some nice players with some inside presence who want the ball and can do stuff with the ball inside. I think we have a good combination of weapons that work well together.”

One of those players is freshmen guard Zoe March. She is from the Fresno area and got to play near home last week when APU had an exhibition match against Fresno State.

“Going back home and playing there and seeing family and friends in the stands was a lot of fun. It was a special moment for me,” March said.

March has experienced a tough physical transition from high school with practice and weights, but an easier transition on the team itself.

“Because it’s a new team, everyone’s on the same level and everyone’s experiencing the same things. We get to experience new things together, which has made it easier,” March said.

One of the few returning players who helped facilitate the transition is junior guard Joelle Tampien. She noted the strengths of the team last year compared to this year.

“Last year, that team had been together for two years, so we knew each other’s tendencies and got along really well,” Tampien said. “Transitioning to this year, we have a lot of talent, we’re just working on the whole chemistry part. I have pretty high expectations for this team.”

The Cougars are currently 1-1 after defeating Cal State Dominguez Hills 70-68 in their first game of the season. They lost to Cal Poly Pomona on Nov. 12, 56-67.

The Cougars will play their next game at Cal State Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

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