Stefanie Berberabe speaks softly but carries a big load for the Westmont College women’s basketball program.
The 5-foot-3 junior guard from Norwalk was named as the NAIA National Player of the Year this week after leading the Warriors to victory over top-seeded Thomas More, Ky. in Tuesday’s national championship game in Sioux City, Iowa.
“She is the most humble person,” said Westmont’s Kirsten Moore, who was named as NAIA National Coach of the Year. “She wants to serve her teammates and looks to the needs of others above her own. She is such a selfless person.”
Two of those teammates also gained All-America status. Iyree Jarrett, a 5-5 junior guard who was a first-team All-American last season, was tabbed to this year’s second team. Lauren Tsuneishi, a 5-foot senior, received honorable mention as well as the NAIA Hustle Player of the Year Award.
Berberabe said this season’s drive to the national title — its second in the last nine years — was a collective effort.
“We thrive in situations where we are down,” she said. “We are good at comebacks. We just needed to focus on defense and rebounding and everything else came together.
“We all attacked, using our athletic ability to make things happen on the court both defensively and offensively.”
Berberabe averaged 17.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Her field-goal percentage of 54.8% ranks fourth in school history.
“She has been such a dynamic player for us this year,” Moore said. “She has an incredible fighting spirit that goes along with her incredible athleticism.
“As she has grown in her confidence and her attacking mentality, it has taken our team to another level. Time and time again, when we needed buckets and big plays, she made it happen on the offensive end.”
She asserted herself on the other end of the court, as well, Moore said.
“Her defense is electrifying the way she flies around the court and makes hustle plays,” she said. “She is such a game-changer on both ends of the court.”
Jarrett averaged 14.4 points and a team-leading 5.9 assists per game — fifth-best in the NAIA this season and second-best in school history. She also got 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game.
Her career scoring average of 12.3 per game ranks third in the Warriors’ record book. Her 947 career points has her poised to become the 16th member of Westmont’s 1,000-point club.
“She loves basketball and is a phenomenal basketball player,” Moore said. “You can tell her love of the game by the IQ that she plays with.
“She is a facilitator for everything that we do on offense. Her passing makes people around her better. Her ability to create off the dribble and draw defense and create open opportunities for other people is next level.”
Tsuneishi averaged 13.9 points and a team-best 3.9 three-pointers per game, ranking second nationally. She made 39.6% of her threes and 92% of her free throws. Her Hustle Player of the Year Award was also richly deserved, Moore said.
“Everyone watching sees the heart that she plays with,” she said. “That is the heart she brings on a daily basis in practice, even when no one is watching.
“For her to do that at the national tournament, and for it to be evident to everyone watching how much heart she plays with, was so fun.”
Tsuneishi completed her Westmont career with 1,078 points. She also ranks second in career three-pointers with 291 and her free-throw shooting of 81.5% is fourth in the school record books. She was a workhorse for the Warriors, playing the third-most minutes (3,524) in school history.
She was a freshman on the Warriors’ NAIA runner-up team of 2018.
“Lauren has been the consummate Warrior in her four years at Westmont,” Moore said. “She has continued to fight for the values of this program, for the foundation of what the Warrior way is and for how we do things.
“She has been the lynchpin connector between this year’s team and the last team that went to the national championship game that included Lauren McCoy, Morgan Haskin and Jae Ferrin as seniors. As a freshman, she took that in and she has passed it on to this group of younger Warriors that have joined her.”
Moore, who also won NAIA Coach of the Year honors in 2013, has compiled a win-loss record of 370-123 (75.1%) during her 16 seasons at Westmont. She’s had 15 of her players selected as All-Americans.
“Honestly, I just consider it a privilege to coach these young women every day,” she said. “They teach me and inspire me.
“My overwhelming feeling is gratitude toward their willingness to trust me and to let me lead them through this year of adversity and trust that good can come from it.”
Westmont (15-1) lost only its season opener to Pepperdine, an NCAA Division 1 team. Its regular season was whittled to just 11 games and its GSAC schedule to just six by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a daily process of trying to maintain our hope, to continue to increase our faith and to choose to love one another through thick and thin,” Moore said. “We chose to do that through all the highs and lows that COVID and all the adversity brought.
“There were so many things that could have been so disappointing along the way, but they chose to love each other well through that journey and to maintain hope. It has increased all of our faith.”