The last two seasons have witnessed the return of The Master’s College women’s basketball program to national prominence, capped off by consecutive appearances in the NAIA National Tournament. But, just making a cameo has never been the goal of the Mustangs and head coach Dan Waldeck. So, first-round losses in each of the past two national tourneys, that capped off what had been remarkable campaigns, has left both a sour taste and a quiet resolve to take care of business this time around.
Some would scoff at the ability of the Mustangs to do so after losing a pair of All-Americans to graduation last year. However, that doesn’t faze Waldeck who will re-tool around a solid, explosive core of nine returnees while mixing in a quartet of talented recruits. This group of 13 athletes will follow in the footsteps of those teams that have gone before them, dictating play at each of the court with a stingy defense and a wide-open offense.
Much of that free-flowing attack will depend on a backcourt that boasts one of the top trios found anywhere in the NAIA, featuring senior point guard Whitney Best and wings junior Nicole Nitake and sophomore Megan Lindsley. Best is a consummate floor general, knowing when and where to distribute the ball or taking the shot herself. When she gets the ball in the hands of Nitake and Lindsley, she and everyone else knows a three-pointer is a distinct possibility from two of the elite “behind the arc” shooters in the country.
Complementing this threesome is senior wing Millie Rivera, who brings veteran savvy, a slashing style of play at one end, and defensive tenacity at the other. In her new role on the wing, junior Olivia Thompson will look to shoot more often but a point-guard mentality will help her find open teammates. Sophomore transfer Lauren Prettyman could back up Best as part of the rotation while fellow sophomores Stacie Perez, Sydney Emory, and Paige Colbert will compete for playing time in a deep backcourt.
An intriguing competition is shaping up at the four where the club will showcase a more traditional power forward in freshman Chayan Lowery and a “stretch four” in junior Shannon Kingery. Lowery is an extraordinary athlete with length and hops that project her to be a terrific finisher, defender and rebounder. Providing a change of pace, Kingery is a proven perimeter shooter with one of the purest shots on the team to go with an inside game that turns her into a scorer down low. Freshman Cassie Shillam seems to have a little bit of Lowery and Kingery in her and only time and experience will showcase this.
After learning behind All-American Jacquelyn Marshall last year and playing quality minutes, as well, sophomore Bianca Cubello steps into the starting job in the post with a physical presence that will pay dividends for her team and punish opponents at the same time. Giving Cubello some time to breathe, senior transfer Arianna Hanson is an experienced five who does her best work at the defensive end but she generates offense with a motor that won’t quit.
So, the roster is set and the roles are defined, at least on paper. Now, the squad is ready to put into practice what they’ve learned, well, in practice. The Mustangs, who will also be wearing a target as the nation’s 14th-ranked squad in the NAIA preseason poll, will be tested early, playing four of the country’s Top 25 teams in their first 11 games, including No. 4 Westminster on the season’s first weekend, No. 17 Lewis-Clark St. from Idaho in mid-November, and then back-to-back clashes with No. 18 Westmont and third-ranked Vanguard, the defending GSAC regular-season champion, as conference plays opens in December.