Mustang Daily file photo.

Cal Poly’s women’s basketball team members have been doing more than studying during their off-season: they have been practicing, playing international games and growing together as a team. The team is positive this extra work will help them return this season ready to repeat success as Big West regular season champion.

In the 2010-11 season, Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara tied for first place in the Big West with a record of 12-4, allowing the Mustang’s to move on to their first-ever postseason. Unfortunately, they lost to Cal’s Golden Bears in the first round of the NIT.

In the team’s first playoff appearance, 2010-11 Big West Player of the Year Rachel Clancy scored 21 points. Clancy finished her four-year career at Cal Poly last season, but head coach Faith Mimnaugh said there are a few incoming freshmen that will help fill the void.

“Freshman Kristen Ale is (working) for a starting position, and red-shirt freshman Ariana Elegado should be seeing a lot of playing time,” Mimnaugh said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they made the Big West All-Freshman team this year.”

The new freshmen are ready to hit the court with the 2009-10 Big West Player of the Year Kristina Santiago, who is returning for one last season after missing last year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Santiago played one game last year, before going down with the season-ending injury. Shortly after, she had surgery and only returned to the court recently. Santiago said she has been able to practice and play, but she could feel that her knee was not fully recovered.

“I’m doing a lot better,” Santiago said. “My knee is not 100 percent yet, but I am getting very close to going full speed with it. I think I will be fully recovered by the time the season starts. It’s just great to get out there and work with the other girls again.”

Santiago and the team were able to work together during an off-season trip to Costa Rica. While on the trip, both new and returning players were able to get in some practices, play against Costa Rican teams and grow together as a unit.

According to Mimnaugh, the Mustangs are a step ahead of their competitors because the team trained hard in Costa Rica and they grew together, improving team chemistry.

“The trip was amazing,” Santiago said. “We had a lot of fun, (as well as) tons of additional practices, which is good for this time of the season. We bonded as a team, which makes working together a lot easier.”

With the extra practices and games played during the off-season, it is obvious the team is more focused and determined this year to outperform its 2010-11 season. Santiago said the practices are a big advantage that other teams do not have before the season starts.

“This year, we definitely want to make it to the postseason with the hard work we have already put in,” Santiago said. “We hopefully want to win the Big West tournament and move on to the NCAA playoff.”

Students, such as psychology junior Katie Richardson, are eager to cheer on the women’s basketball team as it begins its journey to the playoffs.

“I am so excited for this season,” Richardson said. “I can’t wait to wear my green and scream for the lady Mustangs.”

Students still need to wait a few weeks before they can show their support, but practice is already underway. The Mustang’s season starts on Nov. 13 when they travel to the University of Oregon to take on the Ducks.

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