In the middle of the court, the 49ers stand together holding hands in a prayer led by new head coach Jeff Cammon. The team prays for health and prosperity, then locks in for practice.
It was a long summer for Cammon after being named the new women’s basketball head coach . Last year’s roster had relative success reaching the first round of the NCAA tournament, but when Cammon walked in to see his new team, there were only six returning players.
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I never knew how stressful it would be until I actually stepped in,” Cammon said. “I had to do a lot of visits by myself and make five or six calls a day.”
The rest of the team had either graduated or transferred to another school. His only mission was to find some talent to bring to Long Beach, and he did, convincing six high-level freshmen to join the 49ers.
With a young and inexperienced team, many have come to the assumption that it will solely be a rebuilding year, but Cammon believes otherwise.
“We’re here to build a healthy culture and even with such a young team we will fall short, but we are going to compete all the way,” Cammon said. “We want to win, but the reality is we’ll go as far as how quickly our freshmen develop and mature.”
Assistant coach Bryan Camacho noticed major strides the team has made in a short amount of time.
“There is a lot of talent out here, and everyday the girls work hard to build chemistry and understand how to succeed together,” Camacho said. “As the season goes on we’ll be in much better shape.”
The backcourt will consist of junior point guard Martina McCowan and senior shooting guard Jessica Gertz to start the year off. McCowan was not a scoring threat last season, but through her hustle and grit she was able to earn the starting position. With more minutes available, she will be able to showcase her above average defense and improve her offense. Gertz shot lights out last year, hitting 40 percent of her three pointers. She will be an essential part to the 49ers offense, and with her veteran experience Gertz will have to be a leader on the team.
“Being in my fourth year, I know how to run the system and I know what to expect,” Gertz said. “It’s my job to teach the younger girls everything that I’ve learned.”
The frontcourt incoming freshman will see a lot of minutes with senior power forward Darshana Ta’afua being sidelined with no word yet on a return date. Freshman center Emma Merriweather will be starting at the “five” position, and the team hopes will be the rim protector the 49ers have been looking for. At 6-foot-5 she will be able to use her size against her opponents and be a force to be reckoned with in the post.
“We got a lot of pure talent that will be the cornerstones of this team for years to come,” Cammon said. “I’m looking forward to see our team learn from each game and reach our true potential.”
The 49ers will protect the Walter Pyramid this weekend at 2 p.m. on Friday against the Pepperdine Waves and Montana State at 1 p.m. on Sunday.