While an outsider may think the women’s basketball team is stuck in mediocrity, anyone following the team through its peaks and valleys will know that after a season of tough losses, this young group has become a close-knit unit.
Looking back at the 49ers’ 2018-2019 season doesn’t appear to be very promising on the surface, as the team finished 9-22 with a Big West Conference record of 5-11. It’s only one more win than the previous year.
Ranging from a 62 point loss to the University of Oregon, to claiming revenge against Fullerton in the Big West Tournament a week after being downed by a buzzer beater, the 49ers have seen their fair share of drama this season.
“There’s nothing like when those lights come on and you got to perform under those lights, but it takes time [to win],” head coach Jeff Cammon said.
Losing three high-caliber seniors is never easy for a program to regroup from, but with returning impact players Shanaijah Davison, who earned preseason All-Big West honors, and Naomi Hunt, the team had a confidence about them.
“I think we can compete at the top of this conference,” Cammon proclaimed early on in the season. He never doubted his team even when all odds were against them.
“Expectations were high for a group of young, young kids and I thought they stepped up and competed as hard as they could,” Cammon said.
This year’s most commonly started group was comprised of two sophomores, a freshmen initiating the offense and a transfer who has been recovering with a knee injury, which often showed during late-game stretches when the offense would bog down or unnecessary turnovers would occur.
“I think for us, we’re struggling to find that leadership because we are so young and there’s no person that’s been there,” Cammon said “They haven’t seen it, they haven’t been around it, so I think last year the difference is that I thought we had some leadership, not that we have none, it’s developing and growing. Naomi leads by example, I thought she’s done a better job being vocal. They’re learning, they’re thrown in the fire, so I think its trial by error right now and I think we’re growing.”
Long Beach went through many obstacles throughout the season, most notably the loss of senior leader Martina McCowan when she hit the deck hard in November against Nevada, leading to an injured knee resulting in her leaving the team, who had been a staple in the Beach’s guard rotation.
While many players were dealing with dings, bumps and bruises, they did welcome back Bria Rice, a guard who brings relentless energy attacking ball-handlers and runs the floor in transition, playing the role of a prototypical 3-and-D player.
Kianna Hamilton-Fisher also exploded onto the scene down the stretch, showing her versatility by grabbing rebounds, charging up the floor and dishing to open shooters or taking it to the rack herself.
Justina King, the 49ers’ point guard, took home Big West Freshman of the year and also secured a spot on the All-freshman team, while Hunt received All-Big West second team and Davison was an honorable mention.
If the 49ers put in the work this offseason to become a better offensive unit instead of focusing on transition leak-outs and isolation buckets, coupled with their ever-puzzling zone schemes, this team has a chance to make some real noise with a solid foundation to build upon.