No one said winning was easy.
The task only got harder for the Cal Poly women’s basketball team (11-7, 7-0 Big West), which didn’t play more than eight players in its first five conference games as a result of injuries and suspensions.
With early games against UC Irvine and preseason favorite UC Davis, who entered conference play with the best Big-West records, 8-4 and 10-2 respectively, it was not looking like an easy start to Cal Poly’s conference schedule.
Senior guard and leading scorer Rachel Clancy said the obstacles laid in front of them challenged the team to play their best.
“We have become inspired by the situation we’ve been put in,” Clancy said. “People who don’t know that much about our program have been doubting us. But we knew that no matter how many players we have, that if we have the game plan set, we would be ready to play.”
The Mustangs proved they were more than just ready to play.
In their first seven games of the season, the Mustangs grabbed the top spot in the conference and have a program-best 7-0 start in Big West play.
With low numbers available to play, each player on the court stepped up their game to help earn Cal Poly’s perfect start.
Five separate players recorded career highs in the first five games. Freshman guard Jonae Ervin and sophomore guard Caroline Reeves each recorded career highs of 19 points in Cal Poly’s 84-74 win over Pacific. Junior center Abby Bloetscher came off the bench to score a career-high 29 points in Cal Poly’s 75-72 victory over Cal State Fullerton and freshman center Molly Schlemer, and even veteran Clancy, recorded career highs of 12 and 31 points in the Mustangs’ 74-65 victory over Davis.
“We had so few people everyone had to really commit to their roles,” Clancy said. “Since we were low in numbers, the people who were on the court knew they were going to be playing big minutes, and they were ready to play big minutes.”
The Mustangs have not only been short-handed, but have overcome early first-half deficits of eight or more points, in each of their five games.
Reeves said they haven’t taken any team for granted whether it was favorite UC Davis or last place Long Beach State.
“Because we’ve faced so much adversity so far, we’ve had to work really hard each and every game,” Reeves said. “It’s a matter of desire and heart and needing to keep pushing through on each and every play.”
Head coach Faith Mimnaugh said she was confident in her team’s ability and was proud of its offensive and defensive efforts.
“I can’t say enough about the way the entire team played, and I’m just really proud of them,” Mimnaugh said. “They won with incredible heart and effort.”
The Mustangs were picked to finish second in the conference by the Big West Media Preseason Poll before the start of the season.
Since then, the Mustangs lost 2009-2010 Big West Player of the Year Kristina Santiago. Santiago, who averaged 19.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last year, was out for the season with an injury to her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the first two minutes of the Mustangs’ season opener against Seattle.
At the start of conference play, Bloetscher and guards Desiray Johnston and Ashlee Burns were suspended for violation of team rules. Johnston missed one game, Bloetscher missed two and Burns missed three. The three have combined for 25.4 points per game this season.
Cal Poly was able to secure convincing wins against UC Riverside and Cal State Northridge last week. The team didn’t fall behind in either game, defeating UC Riverside 57-48 and Cal State Northridge 82-52.
The Mustangs will be out to prove themselves again as they go on the road to face conference rivals UC Santa Barbara (10-8, 4-2) on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m., and UC Davis (11-4, 4-2) on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m.