The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

The goal for the 2013-14 College of San Mateo women’s basketball teams is a brand new hardwood floor some 380 miles away from their own.

There, you will find Cerritos College — home of this year’s state championships and former stomping grounds for CSM head coach Michelle Warner.

“I tell them all the time,” Warner said. I’ve yet to see their new court. And I’d like a courtside seat.”

She’d also really like to have her entire basketball team sitting next to her for this homecoming. And with an 8-6 record in non-league play, along with a mostly-healthy (and full) roster, a spot in the CCCAA state championships might not be too far-fetched.

The Bulldogs begin conference play in the newly-reformatted Coast Conference North Division Wednesday evening against the heavily-favored, state-ranked City College of San Francisco Rams. It’s the first of 12 very tough games that will determine CSM’s plight — the top two finishers in conference earn automatic bids in the playoffs while the rest will battle each other for an at-large bid.

“For the most part, especially compared to last year, it’s much better [health-wise],” Warner said about her team heading into conference play. “It helps to have more people because than other people can help shoulder the load. That helps a lot. We try to play all 14 [players].”

The first promising sign of CSM’s start is that there are several players on its roster who have logged considerable minutes. And while the win-loss record suggests an up-and-down start, the reality is the Bulldogs feel like they’ve won a lot more considering they battled against really tough competition and emerged relatively unscathed.

“We learned a lot,” Warner said. “There’s definitely been a transition from playing most of the game in high school to playing all out for three or four minutes and then needing a sub. They’re starting to learn, you can’t jog, you can’t go 70 percent especially against teams like City. You have to go 100 percent all of the time.”

There’s where the luxury of a full and versatile roster really kicks in for CSM as they enter conference play. With the exception of one of two players, Warner said she has a group of girls confortable with guard duties — and a couple of guards who don’t mind getting physical underneath the basket if the situation calls for it. That versatility will prove huge as teams go with short rest this season — with games on Wednesday than Friday.

“We have much more 3-point shooters this year,” Warner said. “We have some size on the inside. So, depending on who we’re playing, somebody should be getitng their double-digit [points] in. But usually, we’re shooting for 10 or more scorers a game.”

So far, the offensive wealth has come from former Half Moon Bay Cougar McKenna Hilton. She’s averaging over 11 points a game and is the only Bulldogs in double digits. After that, CSM is looking at five or six different players who are in the 5 to 6 point range. “It just depends on the match-ups,” Warner said. “I think that’s what’s good about this group. They know any night could be their opportunity.”

They’ll get an opportunity to make some immediate noise when they travel to the 12-3 Rams. City College of San Francisco and their athletes will tell CSM right off the bat exactly where they fit in and how realistic their dream of getting Warner her homecoming really are.

“Bring it on,” said CSM guard Teanna Price. “We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves. I’m excited to see how much different it’ll be from last year. I know there’s going to be a lot of change. It’s going to be interesting. I’m optimistic about it.

“I’m not worried about them (the other teams in conference), I’m worried about my team. What we can do. How we work. I know what we want to be and that is, tenacious on defense. I know we all want success. The last couple of games have been a real gut-check — to see how much we really want it.”

After two road trips to start league play (San Francisco and San Jose), CSM will play its home opener next Wednesday against Las Positas College.