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Transition periods are never easy.
The Cal Poly women’s basketball team (4-7) is in the middle of one right now, but the results have been fairly good.
After the losses of star players Molly Schlemer and Jonae Ervin last season, the Mustangs knew they would have to ride senior guard Ariana Elegado. However, new stars have emerged to fill the voids.
Elegado still leads the Mustangs with 15.7 points per game, but senior guard Kristen Ale, senior forward Taryn Garza and sophomore forward Hannah Gilbert have helped considerably. Ale has dropped 10.3 points per game, while Gilbert is averaging 8.5. Gilbert also leads the team in field goal percentage, shooting 55.4 percent on the year. Garza has dominated the paint, doing the dirty work for the Mustangs. She is averaging a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game while also chipping in with 6.9 points per contest.
The emergence of junior guard Beth Balbierz as a spot-up shooter has also been huge for the Mustangs. Balbierz is shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range, and 60 percent of her made field goals this season have come from behind the arc. She is also shooting more than 94 percent from the free throw line.
Despite these numbers, the Mustangs are just 4-7 on the season. After a strong 4-3 start, including road wins at Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara and home victories over Portland and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Cal Poly has lost four straight.
The Mustangs hosted Saint Mary’s at home on Dec. 14 but fell by one point in overtime, a 65-64 loss in Mott Athletics Center. After the close loss, Cal Poly traveled to New Mexico State and New Mexico, dropping both games in the same state by convincing margins. The Mustangs wrapped up the road trip at Colorado State but were unable to turn their luck around, losing 65-63 in a close game.
After the Jan. 3 game against Bakersfield, the Mustangs will begin Big West Conference play.
Last season, Cal Poly lost to Cal State Northridge in the Big West Tournament Final, falling just one win short of back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.
This season, it looks as though the competition will be even tougher. Cal State Northridge looks strong once again, returning stars Janae Sharpe, Ashlee Guay and Cinnamon Lister and going 9-2 in nonconference play.
Long Beach State looks like the favorite at this point. The 49ers are 11-1 in nonconference play, including wins over San Diego State, LSU, and then-ranked No. 17 California. Their one loss was an overtime defeat at the hands of Pac-12 program USC.
The Mustangs have a tough road ahead of them, but they have shown signs of potential. The key to look out for will be the development of freshman guards Dynn and Lynn Leaupepe. The twins have been a revelation for the program, providing tremendous athleticism on the flanks. They have combined for 34 steals so far this season and have supported Ale and Elegado well. Lynn is averaging 7.2 points per game, while Dynn is averaging 6.2. Keeping with the synchronicity, both sisters have pulled down 56 rebounds as well.
The Leaupepes will certainly play a role in Big West play, which the Mustangs open on Jan. 8 at home against Hawaii at 7 p.m.