Last year, Long Beach State women’s basketball team matched its best start to a season through the first 12 games since joining the Big West conference in 1989, going 11-1, before fatigue and injuries riddled the second half of last season.
Last season the team was unable to participate in team activities until a few weeks before the start of the season, but despite the lack of offseason preparation, CSULB finished with its first winning season under head coach Jeff Cammon.
“We were just so ready to get on the court that we gave everything every single time,” junior guard Justina King said. “I think [our first loss] really hit us differently because we weren’t used to that and we didn’t really know how to respond.”
Entering his fifth season as head coach, Cammon’s first few recruiting classes are now graduating into upperclassmen as they have developed into core foundational pieces within the program, Cammon said.
“We have a good core group… we have a lot of returners who have allowed us to be successful in the past and so we bring back a lot of experience,” Cammon said. “We want young ladies that go through the program and been here foundationally, we think it helps with the sustainability of our culture in our program.”
The Beach finished the 2020-2021 season at 12-9 but having a full offseason of individual player development, strength and conditioning, being able to be in the weight room allows the team to be better built to sustain success this upcoming season.
“For us to be able to get on a court and work on strengths and weaknesses skill-wise, [and] for us to be able to teach our system… it takes time for [players] to learn what you do and be really good at it,” Cammon said. “I think our bodies are more prepared to deal with the rigors of the season, and hopefully prevent injury.”
King was named to the Big West Conference All-First Team, led CSULB in scoring (13.7 ppg) and the Big West Conference in minutes played with 791 (38 per game) while only one other player in the conference played more than 600.
“Coaches, they’re never satisfied in a good way. They constantly want the best out of you and they’re not just going to be okay with ‘good’ then you got to be ‘great.’ And then you got to be better than that,” King said. “Over the years as an individual and as a team, we’ve just grown so much and trusting each other [and] our team chemistry has been building.”
King and fellow guard Ma’Qhi Berry were named to the Big West Conference All-Defensive Team as they both ranked in the top five in steals in the conference.
Berry has been one of the most productive players against the toughest competition and is a player that enjoys the big stages and bright lights, Cammon said.
Having better overall shooting percentages, rebounding, and pushing the tempo converting transition possessions into points are areas the team focused on in the summer, Cammon said.
“A lot of times we’re rushing so we have turnovers, probably passing it too quick or we get a rebound and we just turn it over by making a bad pass,” Berry said. “I think really taking our time and dissecting the defense is really our main thing and then taking our time finishing. I mean, we’re getting to the basket, we’re just not finishing how we want to.”
After experiencing a year of unprecedented events with COVID-19 protocols such as having to test almost every day last season to now being vaccinated and testing once a week, Cammon feels like his team is better prepared for the unknown.
Alongside the all-conference defenders, returning guard Jasmine Hardy is coming off a breakout season where she upped her scoring average from 7.1 ppg in the previous season to 10.8 ppg last season as her shooting percentages also elevated from 32 percent to 47 percent on field goals and 21 percent to 32 percent from the three-point line.
Hardy is a steady player that has developed her game in all areas with her physical play style that allows her to present a threat in the interior but her ability to play on the perimeter and stretch the floor puts pressure on teams, Cammon said.
The coaching staff thinks having a full season of Myrrah Joseph and Lauren Green will help on the inside as Green led the team with 15 blocks two seasons ago.
Joseph was dealing with injuries last year, and LBSU didn’t play well when she was on the bench. Green missed all of the season, and according to Cammon, the team missed her toughness and defensive presence.
Joining the upperclassmen side of the roster this year is two senior transfers, Maddi Utti (Fresno State) and Emily Sullivan (University of Florida) adding more experience and depth.
“[Utti] has raised the intensity in the gym [and] in our competitive mindset,” Cammon said.
Utti was the 2020 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year (15.9 ppg) while Sullivan at 6-foot-4 inches provides an interior presence that The Beach has not had in previous years.
“I wanted to just be like a tight-knit culture, where we could have fun and also win on the court and I knew that we had it here,” Utti said.
The Beach was picked to finish fourth in the Big West Coaches’ Preseason Poll but was selected to finish second in the media poll. UC Davis is favored to win the conference, capturing first place in the coaches and media poll.
The Beach is set to open the season against Biola University in the Walter Pyramid on Nov. 9, tipoff at 7 p.m.
“I really think we could compete for a conference championship,” Cammon said. “We built this, we built for this [opportunity] and I think we proved last year that we could compete at that level.”