The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
From coach Michelle Warner on down to her players, the College of San Mateo women’s basketball program must be wondering what it did to anger the basketball gods.
Warner, in her 14th year at the helm, is still struggling with a lingering knee injury from taking part in a practice a few years ago, while seven of her players have also been on the mend recently. It would be one thing if the season was in full swing, but all of the players’ injuries come before the Bulldogs even take the court for their second game of the season 7 p.m. tonight against visiting De Anza College.
CSM lost its season opener last Friday to visiting Monterey Peninsula College 67-48.
Using some tried and true John Wooden maxims — such as the indelible “be fast but don’t hurry” — is just one part of what Warner tries to impart to her youthful squad, which will be without its floor general of the past two season, Erica Hayes, who transferred to Dixie State.
“The freshmen are learning about the pace of the game, but also about nutrition, getting the right amount of sleep,” Warner said.
The coach didn’t say if she went as far as Wooden to teach her players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes, but getting a revamped squad to fill the sneakers of Hayes and her fellow sophomore team leaders of a year ago, Shakara Haynes and Janisa Jones, will be a learning process. Last season, CSM finished 15-11 and 5-5 in the Coast Conference North Division, good for fourth place.
“It’s just a different squad,” Warner said of this year’s team. “They’re pretty even talent-wise. All of them have skills.”
The scoring load will likely fall on the shoulders of sophomore post player Patricia Malaspina, a sophomore out of Burlingame High School. Sarah Balling will pair with Malaspina in the frontcourt to provide additional size and athleticism. Warner said Balling will likely be the team’s second option on offense, while Denise Won will also contribute. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Won, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, is currently nursing a high ankle sprain, which will likely keep her out for an undetermined part of the preseason.
Sophomore guards Jackie Orje and Alisa Rhodes and second-year forward Kendra Thomas were all selected as captains to start the year, and their influence will be crucial to the success of the club, which features just two other sophomores and 10 freshmen.
Freshmen Franchesca Roth (Westmoor High), Vanessa Castillo (South San Francisco) and Nicole McDonald (Aragon) could help stretch the floor with strong perimeter shooting, Warner said, while Kimmie Fung (Mercy S.F.) has proven so far to be versatile in both forward spots and could even slide into a shooting guard role. Fellow newcomers Jenny Piccolotti (Terra Nova) and Lauren Ward (Half Moon Bay) also have a good scoring touch, Warner said.
The question is: who will step up?
Warner said ideally she would like to bring players into games in waves of five to keep the energy level high as well as keep other teams off-kilter. But with the accumulation of injuries to date, it will be difficult to know who plays well with one another, she said. Making for a greater sense of urgency, Warner expects the Coast Conference to be even more challenging than it usually is.
Along with perennial powers Foothill and City College of San Francisco, other teams in conference are expected to provide challenges through coaching changes and incoming talent.
“It’s usually us three that are always competing, but our league is a lot better this year,” Warner said. “There’s no easy wins for sure.”