In the current era of basketball where so much of the spotlight shines so brightly on backcourt play, there is a still a great need for the kind of post game that dominates at both ends of the court. If there was a takeaway for Coach Dan Waldeck from last year’s disappointing campaign, it would be the promise of the return of an inside game for the 2012-13 season that would do the most to alleviate that bitter taste.
It’s not that the fifth-year head coach doesn’t have a well-rounded and versatile roster prepared to win games from the other positions on the floor. It’s that he knows the absolute importance of having players who can produce with their back to the basket, rebound with authority, and play tough, hard-nosed defense. With the return of a redshirt senior and a junior along with an incoming class that boasts a trio of top-notch front court performers, he thinks he has those types of players who can make the Mustangs contenders once again in the GSAC.
After playing in just four games last year and eventually burning a redshirt season, senior center Theresa Brown returns to the roster and the rotation with a resume that makes her one of the top post players in the conference. Just her presence on the floor makes this year’s edition that much better. But, she’ll have plenty of support from junior transfer Jacquelyn Marshall, junior Lindsey Levanen, and freshmen Kelly Burns and Kim Smither.
Marshall, a transfer from NCAA Division I UC Irvine, will start at power forward with an inside-outside game that instantly makes her a candidate for postseason honors. She’s equally adept at beating opponents with smooth post moves or sticking the perimeter shot. Burns possesses potential to do the same things so she’ll be a regular part of the rotation, contributing valuable minutes at both the four and the five. Meanwhile, Levanen is a proven commodity, bringing a two-year record into her junior year that shows she’s equally comfortable with starting or coming off the bench. Smither presents more matchup problems up front and her adjustment to the physicality of the college game will dictate her playing time.
Although much of the initial focus may be on a frontcourt that needs to learn to play together, the same doesn’t have to be said of the three other spots on the floor where incumbent starters return, joined by other veterans and a promising cast of recruits that should make it one of the top guard-wing combinations in the conference.
Energizing this group is senior wing Lena Rivera, an All-GSAC performer last year and arguably the squad’s best all-around player. She does so many things well at both ends of the court, imposing her will on teammates and opponents alike. Much the same could be said of sophomore Millie Rivera who hopes to complement big sister with an ever-improving outside game in a backup role.
Speaking of perimeter shooting, Waldeck has two of the best wings opposite the Rivera sisters in senior Kimmy Iverson and junior Zoe Scott. Iverson is explosive from long range, proving herself as a potent threat who can start or give the Mustangs instant offense off the bench. The left-handed Scott is on her way to becoming one of the finest three-point shooters in program history while keeping defenses from collapsing on frontcourt teammates. Filling out a trio that can really fill it up from the outside is highly-regarded freshman Shannon Kingery who may be a mirror image of Scott and Iverson from the outside but also has the skill to step up to the four spot.
If, as mentioned before, guard play is so integral to the success of today’s college basketball programs, then the Mustangs are in great shape at the point both now and in the future. Giving credence to that claim is sophomore Whitney Best who returns to run the offense and spearhead the defense with precise decision-making and outstanding athleticism. She’ll be pushed by a pair of talented freshmen, Olivia Thompson and Nicole Nitake, both of whom love to move the ball up the court and are versatile enough to be considered combo guards.
This contingent of Lady Mustangs might be the best Waldeck has coached in his five years at the helm. But, at this point, that’s only on paper. The Mustangs have yet to play a game, but when they do they will be tested by a 29-game schedule that features contests against four of the top 12 teams in the NAIA’s preseason Top 25 Poll. Three (No. 4 Vanguard, No. 5 Westmont, and No. 12 Biola) of those reside in the always-tough GSAC where the Mustangs must navigate successfully before they can even think of returning to the NAIA National Tournament.