The process of making diamonds is a complicated, yet simple process: a lump of coal (or carbon) faces immense heat and pressure underground and if everything goes well, a diamond is formed.
With any luck, the Long Beach State’s women’s basketball team could turn a coal of a season into future seasons of diamonds.
Despite losing an entire coaching staff, a multitude of players, having seven freshman on the squad and experiencing a 13-game losing streak, Long Beach (8-23, 6-10 Big West) was able to close out the season strong.
“I would [give us] maybe a ‘C,’” head coach Jeff Cammon said. “When you don’t win at a high level, you can’t obviously give an ‘A.’”
The 49ers started the season off on the wrong foot as the team lost eight of its first 10 games. The root of many of the team’s problems was that a multitude of players were facing college-level talent for the first time.
“I think it was just new for everybody, it wasn’t just the freshman coming in,” senior guard Cecily Wilson said. “We had new coaches, we had to get used to new coaching styles, new plays and just getting to know everybody and how they play and how our chemistry was on the court. I think that’s what we had to figure out.”
That “new” feeling showed as the team went on a 13-game losing streak spanning from mid-December to early-February. Though the team was going through a rough stretch, Wilson saw that the team brought a positive attitude to practice and never let it get to them.
“It really didn’t feel like that in practice. Practice, the atmosphere, you’d think we were winning,” Wilson said. “I think that’s just what made it easier.”
Even with all the losses, the team was able to come together and win five straight games to close out the season, starting with a win over rival Cal State Fullerton. During this stretch, the team played well with Wilson in particular averaging 15.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
“I wanted to make it to playoffs because I think, I mean I believe that if we made it to playoffs, we’d have a really good chance of winning the tournament again,” Wilson said. “Our freshman are so talented, our team is just so talented and during those last five games, I think everybody saw just how talented we were.”
With Long Beach on a winning streak to close out the season, the team built up confidence and momentum that had been lacking throughout. However, Cammon felt that the team was overconfident coming into the matchup with UC Riverside, a team Long Beach defeated about a week prior.
“We really shouldn’t have been that confident,” Cammon said. “We should have understood that we were that close to, either continue to go in the right direction or get back to where we were.”
That overconfidence showed as Riverside beat Long Beach on second chance opportunities and came out more energized. The 49ers fell to the Highlanders in the first round of the Big West Tournament.
Though Long Beach’s season ended abruptly, the team can take solace in the fact that even with a rough start to the season, it banded together and strung together wins. That being said, the 49ers will be missing the presence of Wilson, senior guard Jessica Gertz and senior forward Darshana Ta’afua as the trio will be graduating.
“Definitely Ceci[ly Wilson], it’s tough to replace a kid as competitive as Ceci,” Cammon said. “She’s just a fierce competitor and she wants to win… She’s a winner and she wants it more than anybody and that’s tough to replace.”
With regards to Gertz, Cammon says her attitude, character, the maturity she showed and the respect that the team gave her is what the team will miss. Lastly, with Ta’afua not being fully healthy for most of the season, she wasn’t able to showcase her ability on the floor. However, Cammon says that, regardless, the team will miss her passion for the game and her ability to connect with the players.
Although the 49ers will be losing three leaders in the locker room, Wilson says that the team will be competitive and have a chance to be one of the top teams in conference.
Having a proper offseason, expect a tougher, grittier and more disciplined squad on both sides of the ball, one that could potentially bring Wilson’s prediction to fruition.
“I think you can expect an up-tempo team but a team that can execute in the half-court,” Cammon said. “We can play small, we can play big, we can play different styles.”
“We have a special group of young ladies and that this is a special place and we can really make some noise,” he concluded.
Whether the team takes the next step remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: if the team takes the lessons learned from this season to following seasons, future seasons will be full of diamonds.