By Jarrod Castillo Editor
When the 2017-2018 season started for Long Beach State’s women’s basketball and soccer teams, both teams were on similar yet vastly different trajectories.
They were similar in that the year prior, both reached the Big West Tournament in their respective league despite the former lost in the first round while the latter won the entire tournament.
That’s where the similarities end, however.
Courtesy John Fajardo/LBSU Athletics
After being the second-best team in the Big West Conference in 2016-2017, Long Beach State’s women’s basketball team underwent significant turnover, signaling a rebuild.
Meanwhile, the soccer team looked to capitalize on the momentum of the previous year and rightly so, expectations were high but untimely injuries derailed the momentum.
It started with 2016 Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year and the fulcrum of The Beach’s offense, forward Ashley Gonzales suffering a season-ending knee injury in an early-season contest against UCLA. Then defender/forward and 2017 Big West Defensive Player of the Year Kaitlin Fregulia went down with a season-ending injury of her own amid a rough patch.
That spelled disaster for the team and caused them to miss the tournament for the first time in three years.
After Gonzales got hurt last year, The Beach had 13 different players score and another 12 assist. This was something that head coach Mauricio Ingrassia hopes to see more this season.
“I think we’ll have a good balance, I think we have a lot of players that can score,” he said. “I think we have a solid team so I’m expecting goals to come from different places.”
Though the team lost its first game against UCLA, 1-0, on Aug. 17, Ingrassia says it’s “amazing” to have Gonzales back in the lineup.
“To have her back is great for her, but also great for the program, great for our community, great for our fans,” Ingrassia said.
That said, Gonzales played 67 minutes and 63 minutes in their first two games against UCLA and SMU respectively. That was by design, according to Ingrassia.
“She has to ease into these high-level competition. You’ve got to remember that she’s been off for a year,” Ingrassia said.
According to a poll conducted by coaches, The Beach was slated to finish second in the conference though Ingrassia said that the players only worry about what’s on the pitch.
With 18 letter winners returning from the 2017 team (nine starters) and a bevy of new players on the team, Ingrassia says that the players have gotten along “great” and that it’s been easy integrating them into the program.
“There’s a couple of them that have already made significant impacts on the pitch, so we’re hoping to integrate more in the next coming weeks,” he said.
Although the team has already played two games (1-1-0), Ingrassia hopes that fans will come and support the team at home at George Allen Field. More so once conference play starts because those are “worth the price of admission” and can be considered as “finals,” he said.
Courtesy John Fajardo/LBSU Athletics
On the other hand, the basketball team underwent a significant shift last season, with Jody Wynn and her coaching staff departing. Jeff Cammon was hired as head coach to rebuild and lay a foundation for future seasons though there were growing pains.
The team started 2-8 and at one point, lost 13-straight. When conference play began, the team lost its first eight games by an average of 12.8 points per game (PPG).
That was expected from a team playing seven freshmen (with one leading the team in scoring) and four upperclassmen remaining from previous squads. However, instead of giving up, something clicked.
The team went 6-2 in its last eight, including a five-game winning streak winning led by sophomore guard Shanaijah Davison’s and senior guard Cecily Wilson’s 19.8 ppg and 15.4 ppg, respectively.
They snuck into the tournament but were eliminated by UC Riverside, 79-66, in the first round.
This offseason, Cammon said the team worked on getting mentally stronger and talked about how to be a better teammate on-and-off the court. Plus, the experience of playing through adversity, getting to the tournament and playing in late game situations is something Cammon says will help.
“I think the experience that those younger kids received last year will pay dividends because now they’ve been in those situations,” Cammon said.
With most of the squad returning and working on team philosophies, the ceiling’s high for this team though Cammon says they still need to work on defensive rebounding and to limit turnovers this season.
“I think if we could defensive rebound, I think if we could take care of the basketball, I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “I think the other things will take care of themselves.”
That ceiling will be even higher if Davison becomes more efficient on both offense and defense.
“She’s [Davison] is a natural-born scorer, that’s in her DNA. So to get her to see the value in other things takes a lot, but it’s something that she has committed to, and actually, she’s gotten better,” Cammon said.
Furthermore, if sophomore forward Naomi Hunt’s progresses nicely, those two could feasibly be the teams’ final one-two punch on offense.
“We feel like her progression has been … to be more physical, I thought she worked on her body in the weight room, and she’s a little more comfortable with her back to the basket, which is going to make us better,” he said.
Cammon also says that Hunt’s confidence radiates throughout the locker room and challenges her to be more vocal as other players’ respect her and will listen to what she says.
Additionally, Cammon says that senior guard Martina McCowan can potentially be Defensive Player of the Year in the conference.
“She doesn’t have to score anything to be that much of a presence and make that much of an impact on the game and be that impact player for us,” he said
Also, adding two transfers in guard Sydney Bordonaro and forward Cydnee Kinslow alongside freshman guard Justina King will only bolster the squad.
“We are happy to welcome these three young ladies to The Beach family,” Cammon said in a press release. “All three have what it takes to make huge impacts right away.”
In the end, expect a better showing this season. With a focused soccer team this year, they can beat any team, in conference or not. Conversely, the basketball team fought in the waning games of last season and so look for a sharper squad brimming with confidence on both sides of the ball.
If both teams play to their capabilities, they could be on top of the Big West Conference in their respective sports.
Only time will tell.