Head coach Shanele Stires picked up her first win as a Mustang on Thursday. Credit: Mia-Isobel Craig | Mustang News, 2022

Cal Poly women’s basketball was victorious over Simpson University by a score of 81-49 in their home opener on Thursday, Nov. 10 inside Mott Athletics Center. 

The game marked first-year head coach Shanele Stires’ first victory as a Division-I head coach.

The stands were packed with local elementary school students for this game between the Mustangs (1-1) and the Red Hawks (2-1), with over 1,700 in attendance as a part of ‘Field Trip Day.’

The Mustangs won the opening tip and put the pressure on Simpson from the get-go, as they began the game on a 10-4 scoring run and controlled the pace early. The Red Hawks settled down midway through the first but couldn’t capitalize on multiple open looks. 

Cal Poly utilized its size advantage against the smaller Simpson team, but struggled with early turnovers. Despite this, the first quarter ended with an 18-8 Mustang advantage.

The second quarter was more closely contested as Simpson started getting into a groove. The two teams traded baskets in a back-and-forth affair, and Simpson cut the deficit to seven early on and kept it tight. However, Cal Poly maintained its lead and was ahead 38-26 going into the half. 

After the break, the Mustangs picked up the intensity. The team opened the half on a 15-3 run and pushed its lead to 24 points midway through the third. Even with a switch to a 2-3 zone defense, Simpson couldn’t keep up with Cal Poly and the third ended with a score of 65-44.

“We did a really good job sticking together and playing connected basketball, especially in the second half,” junior forward Natalia Ackerman said. “We can work on coming out stronger with an energetic vibe to start out [the game].”

The fourth quarter was all Cal Poly, holding the Red Hawks to five points and never letting their lead slip under 18. When the final buzzer sounded, the Mustangs walked away with an 81-49 win. 

Cal Poly went deep into their rotation for this game, with 14 different players seeing playing time. Graduate guard Nikola Kovacikova, junior guard Taylor Wu, senior forward Julia Nielacna, and Ackerman led the way in the scoring department, each scoring 12 points. 

Ackerman also led the team with seven rebounds, and sophomore guard Annika Shah contributed seven assists. 

“With our roster, we do have pretty good depth,” Stires said. “It was good to see everybody get some action and see them compete. Moving forward, getting everybody better is really what we want so that we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”

Cal Poly dominated on the offensive end, shooting 59% from the field compared to 34% for the Red Hawks. The Mustangs also won the battle in the paint, dominating the boards 39 to 20, and 56 of Cal Poly’s 81 points came from inside the paint.

The Mustangs travel to No. 2 Stanford for their next contest on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. inside Maples Pavilion.