Ian Billings/Staff Photographer

Junior Ariana Elgado is second on the team, averaging 17.0 points per game entering the tournament.

Jefferson P. Nolan
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Women’s basketball head coach Faith Mimnaugh is certain that one day, her players are going to give her a heart attack.

In her 17th season at the helm of the team, Mimnaugh now refers to her players as “the cardiac kids.”

“I’m excited that we’ve been in almost every game,” Mimnaugh said. “Every game seems like it has been a nail-biter. It’s killing me. My blood pressure is up. My heart rate is up. They love the drama … I’m not sure why.”

And now, as the Mustangs prepare for the Big West Conference Tournament, Mimnaugh’s blood pressure may hit an all-time high.

The defending Big West Conference Tournament champions, Cal Poly will enter the tournament in the semifinal round Friday as the No. 2 seed — the same ranking they had last season.

Though each team is different, it’s difficult for Mimnaugh not to think back to last year — the season that changed everything.

A seemingly permanent grin was etched on the face of the veteran coach as she climbed a ladder to cut down her share of the net last season.

Tears poured down her face as she held up her index finger to the applauding crowd. After 16 years and no trips to the big dance, at last, her team was No. 1.

But just as athletes are trained to have a short memory of defeat, the same is true for victories.

This season, the Mustangs have fought some rough waters during conference play. Mimnaugh’s team suffered bouts of losing streaks, the most recent to Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State and UC Irvine.

However, with the leadership of senior center Molly Schlemer, the Mustangs have righted the ship.

Sporting a 17-12 record overall and 11-5 in Big West play, Cal Poly will enter Friday’s semifinals with a two-game winning streak under its belt.

Especially for Schlemer, winning in the Honda Center is something she’s used to.

“I keep telling my team, ‘We’ve been here before,’” Schlemer said. “We know how it is to win the tournament, since we did it last year.”

Recently named to the Big West Conference First Team along with junior guard Ariana Elegado, Schlemer will return to Anaheim after earning Big West Player of the Year in 2013 — the fourth consecutive year a Cal Poly women’s basketball player received this accolade.

“We were so excited last year that she was named player of the year, and certainly she was one of the best players in the conference this year,” Mimnaugh said. “A double-double is almost guaranteed every night.  She’s shooting 55 percent against teams who are double- and triple-teaming her. Sometimes, she’s got people hanging onto her ankles.”

Schlemer started in all 29 of the Mustangs’ regular season games, averaging 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds. She scored a career-high 37 points against UC Santa Barbara earlier this year, tallied 14 double-doubles this season and is currently ranked 29th in the nation after making 55.2 percent of her shots from the field.

But as her senior season comes to a close, Schlemer realizes her days in college basketball are numbered.

“I’ve been telling my team for a week and for the past couple of days that I have a really good feeling about this tournament,” Schlemer said. “For us seniors, it’s our last couple of games. Coach (Mimnaugh) always tells us, ‘What are you waiting for?’ There’s nothing else after this.”

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