The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
With College of San Mateo women’s basketball opening its season Friday at home against Hartnell College-Salinas with a 6 p.m. tip-off, head coach Michelle Warner is gunning to return the Lady Bulldogs to the postseason for the first time since 2011-12.
CSM was one of just three Northern California teams with an overall record over .500 to not qualify for the postseason last year — De Anza-Cupertino and Lassen-Susanville were the others — and entering into opening week this season, falling shy of the playoffs was still haunting Warner.
The Bulldogs dropped two of their final three games to seal their elimination fate, including a 99-97 overtime loss to San Jose City to close the season. CSM’s fate was all but sealed previous to that though with a three-game conference losing streak during which time 6-foot center Mariah Elzy (James Logan-Union City) was out due to injury.
When on the court, Elzy was a force, ranking 10th in the state with a 19.6 points-per-game average and seventh in the state with 12.6 rebounds per game.
The good news for Warner and the Bulldogs is Elzy, now a sophomore, appears to be relatively healthy to start the current season. The bad news, however, is her fellow twin tower, 6-1 sophomore power forward Corryne Millet (Douglas-Nevada), will start the year on the shelf due to a knee injury and is not expected to return until at least Nov. 18.
CSM has traditionally been a team that likes to run the court, but was forced to slow the tempo last season with the addition of its imposing middles.
“I have a lineup that can press and run,” Warner said. “But we can’t run for 40 minutes. … [Running] is my preferred style but we can only run with what we have.”
Warner has plenty in the way of experience with seven sophomores on roster. Four sophomores are slated to start Friday, with Elzy at center, and Sophia Leon (James Logan), Bella Mercado (Hillsdale) and Gabby Jajeh (Mercy-SF) at guards.
Among the guards, Jajeh was the most proficient scorer last season at 10.2 points per game. Leon was close behind at 9.5 points per game. Mercado saw limited playing time last season with now transferred Taylor Cormier — on scholarship at Bellvue University-Nebraska — running the point.
“I just think [Mercado] is more confident now,” Warner said. “She knows she’s the only point guard with experience. So we’re looking for her for leadership.”
Millet is not the only player contending with injury. Sophomore guard Dominique Bonaparte also suffered a knee injury, but could return to action by next week. Both Millet and Bonaparte were injured in the game against Fresno City at a preseason tournament last week at San Joaquin Delta.
“Unfortunately injuries are part of the game,” Warner said. “And it’s the part I hate the most.”
With five freshmen on roster, two are point guards in 5-3 Brooke Bayangos (El Camino) and 5-4 Kendra Croft (Mt. Eden-Hayward). The Bulldogs also have some first-year height in 5-10 forward Raven Johnson (Hayward), 5-8 forward Nandi Eskridge (Oceana) and 5-11 forward Malia Koloamatangi (Half Moon Bay).
Koloamantangi is a two-sport athlete who currently plays for the CSM volleyball team, and is the team’s second most proficient scorer at 1.67 kills per set.
“She definitely adds a lot to our team,” Warner said. “She’s definitely going to play minutes. We just have to wait until after volleyball season before she can play.”