ROCKLIN —The Westmont women’s basketball team (23-5, 16-2) — ranked third in the NAIA — claimed an outright Golden State Athletic Conference regular season championship with a 72-55 win Saturday at William Jessup (14-16, 9-9).
This marks three straight regular season championships and four in the last five years.
“I am proud of all the work that goes in on a daily basis to have that kind of consistency,” said Coach Kirsten Moore about the Warriors’ success. “I am proud of this team, and this senior class specifically for all they have accomplished in their career. Some of them closed out their last regular season GSAC game with a championship.
“They came in as freshmen and were contributors from the beginning. I am really proud of them for sticking with it for four years and giving as much as they have to the vision and to who we are as Warriors. To see the fruit of that with a conference championship in their senior year is great.”
The Warriors faced a considerable challenge this year when they lost the conference opener against The Master’s in the first GSAC game of the year. Then, COVID-19 made its way through the team, causing shorthanded practices and games.
On Jan. 15, the Warriors did not have enough players to field a team and had to forfeit a league game to San Diego Christian.
On Jan. 29, Westmont handed The Master’s its first loss of the season. While winning was an indicator that the Warriors were finally healthy and headed in the right direction, the hope of a regular season championship was slim since The Master’s had just one loss.
The following week, The Master’s lost to Hope International and the Warriors suddenly found themselves in a three-way battle for first place. All three teams had two losses at the time. Two days later, the Warriors took down the Royals, resulting in Westmont and The Master’s tied for first in the conference standings.
When The Master’s lost to Vanguard on Feb. 12, the way was clear for Westmont to claim the GSAC Regular Season Championship by winning their final two games of the season – both on the road. Thursday, Westmont clinched at least a share of the title with a 59-50 win at Menlo. With today’s win, they stand alone atop the GSAC standings.
“It’s the second game in a row where we played a team that was a lot more physical than the first time we saw them,” assessed Moore. “Jessup shot the lights out tonight, making 50% from the 3-point line (nine of 18). I thought they played really well and made us step up our game.
“I was proud of how we were able to respond. We hit big shots when we needed to, made runs and were able to extend our lead. I’m proud of the team sticking with it and getting a couple of big wins on the road this week. There were a lot of contributions from everyone that was out there. Our guards led us in scoring and knocking down the big shots, but they also had 17 assists.”
Stefanie Berberabe went seven of 10 from the field as she produced a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists. She also tallied four rebounds and two steals. Iyree Jarrett posted 15 points, dished off seven assists, and added three rebounds and three steals. Laila Saenz went five of 12 from beyond the arc to score 15.
The first-quarter scoring started with Jessup’s Joelyn Stirton connecting on a three to put the Warriors from Rocklin on top early. Westmont responded, however, by scoring the next 13 points, starting with back-to-back three from Saenz.
After Berberabe dropped in a couple of free throws, Aleena Cook hit a jumper to give the Warriors a 10-3 advantage. Berberabe completed the scoring with the Warriors’ third 3-pointer in the first six minutes of the game. At the end of the opening frame, Westmont held a 20-11 advantage.
Two minutes into the second quarter, Jessup closed to within seven (22-15) on a long distance bucket by Malia Lepolo. That was before an 8-0 run by the Warriors made the score 30-15. After a jumper by Berberabe started the run, Jarrett stole the ball and fed Berberabe for a layup. The Warriors scored again when Sydney Brown grabbed an offensive rebound and Destiny Okonkwo scored in the paint. Brown then scored her own second-chance bucket after an offensive rebound by Saenz
Westmont outrebounded Jessup 33-23 and scored 11 second-chance points to Jessup’s two. Brown led the way on the boards with nine rebounds to go with her nine points.
“I thought Syd played really well on both ends of the floor tonight,” noted Moore. “She led us in rebounds and did a lot of good things despite being in some foul trouble.”
In the third quarter, Saenz and Jarrett led the Warriors’ offense with nine and eight points, respectively. Saenz went three for six from beyond the arc in the penultimate period and Jarrett didn’t miss a shot going three from three from the field, including one from deep, and one from one from the charity stripe. As a result, Westmont took a 57-40 lead into the final frame.
Twice in the fourth quarter, the Warriors extended their advantage to 20-points. With 8:40 remaining, Brown pulled down an o-board, then scored to make the score 61-41. Then, with 6:55 to play, Okonkwo did the same.
The Warriors now set their sights on this week’s Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament that will be hosted at The Master’s.
“This is what we train for,” said Moore about the tournament. “I am really excited to head into the tournament. We will be on the road, but I am excited to be challenged to have to be our best, and we know we will have to be.”
The Warriors, who have won the last five GSAC Tournaments, will be the No. 1 seed as they begin a quest to make it six tournament championships in a row. (Due to COVID-19, no tournament was held last year.)
The tournament begins on Wednesday with seventh-seeded Vanguard taking on 10th-seeded Life Pacific and eighth-seeded San Diego Christian playing ninth-seeded Ottawa (Ariz.). Westmont has a first-round bye.
The winner between San Diego Christian and Ottawa will advance to the quarterfinals and take on Westmont at 5 p.m. Tickets for the tournament will be available at gsacsports.org/tickets.
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.