All it took was a 25-win season and a return to the NAIA National Tournament for The Master’s College women’s basketball team to regain the respect and notoriety it had once enjoyed. Now, a year later, more is expected of the Mustangs as evidenced by a No. 10 ranking in the NAIA’s Top 25 preseason poll and the target that comes with it.
This is something that the Mustangs and their sixth-year head coach Dan Waldeck won’t run away from. In fact, they’ll embrace the challenge of returning to national prominence with a squad that returns an All-American center, the soon-to-be greatest three-point shooter in the history of the program, and a talented supporting cast that includes six other returnees and a quartet of gifted recruits.
For the second year in a row, it all starts up front where the Mustangs will go only so far as senior Jacquelyn Marshall takes them. Although the talented All-American will operate primarily in the post, she’ll slide to power forward at times where her face-up and back-to-the basket skills will present more matchup problems for opponents. With one year in the system and a coaching staff asking her to be more “selfish” at the offensive end, expect to see a plethora of double-double outings. In addition, she’ll be the right mentor for outstanding freshman post Bianca Cubello who will give Marshall a breather this year and be her replacement for the following three seasons with an athletic, powerful presence down low.
Complementing this frontcourt tandem with muscle and finesse will be a trio of skilled power forwards, featuring the return of junior Lindsey Levanen who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Completely recovered, she’s eager to pick up where she left off two years, morphing into a point forward at times, rebounding with authority, muscling for points around the rim, and doing a lot of little things. Sophomore Kelly Burns was a pleasant surprise last year, scoring around the basket and playing solid post defense. She’ll be part of the regular rotation, sparking the club with her play off the bench. Fellow soph Shannon Kingery may be the best shooter of this trio, hoping to earn court time with her ability to hit the perimeter shot.
When it comes to stretching defenses, however, no one is better than senior wing Zoe Scott who has spent the previous three years keeping defenses from sagging inside. On the cusp of becoming the greatest three-point shooter in the history of the program, her accuracy from behind the arc is a must to balance the club’s offense. On the other side of the court, speedy junior wing Millie Rivera is ready to fill the shoes of her departed All-American sister, Lena, with a transition game that is second to none and a much-needed, slashing style in the half-court offense.
Coaches are always looking for someone to provide instant offense off the bench and Waldeck has that in sophomore Nicole Nitake, who may be Scott’s heir-apparent, and a pair of newcomers. She shoots the ball with accuracy from behind the arc and can also create her own shot. Similarly, sophomore transfer Sydney Emory and freshman Megan Lindsley can fill it up from the outside and get out in transition. The former is a composed decision-maker who spots up behind the arc and pulls up for mid-range jumpers while the latter also drains long-range shots and runs the court well.
Distributing the ball to all of this talent will be the job of junior point guard Whitney Best who has two years of starting experience at a position that demands decisive floor leadership and setting the tempo at both ends of the court. Right behind her is sophomore Olivia Thompson whose dramatic improvement from last year to this one will make it difficult for the coaches to keep her off the court. She runs the offense efficiently and has a lethal shot from the perimeter.
The talent level of Waldeck’s teams continue to show a nice, upward trajectory and based on what happened last year, this group of Mustangs will wear a target once again, something they look forward to as clubs from the previous decade did. The club has yet to play a game, but when it does it will be tested by a 29-game schedule that features contests against five of the top 18 teams in the NAIA’s preseason Top 25 Poll. Two (No. 1 Vanguard and No. 3 Westmont, the defending national champion) of those reside in the always-tough GSAC where the Mustangs must navigate successfully before they can even think of returning to the NAIA National Tournament.