Westmont College, which ascended to the top of the NAIA national women’s basketball rankings last season with a reduced roster, has added three recruits for next year.
A trio of high school stars from different states — Aleena Cook of Latah, Wash.; Laila Saenz of Nampa, Idaho, and Destiny Okonkwo of Rancho Cucamonga — have committed to play for the Warriors next season.
Westmont (27-3) was seeded No. 1 for the NAIA National Tournament before the Covid-19 crisis forced its cancellation. The Warriors will return all of their players except graduating senior Maud Ranger. Also expected back is Sydney Brown, the top rebounder from the 2018-19 season who sat out last year with a knee injury.
Coach Kirsten Moore said her three recruits will give her much-needed depth for next year.
“They each have strengths, skills and talents that will make our team more complete moving into the future and enable us to continue to compete at a championship level,” she said. “Perhaps what excites me the most is that they are proven winners.
“Aleena and Laila both won their state championships this year … Destiny’s team has consistently been one of the top teams in California. This group has won a slew of league, district and state championships and I believe they possess the qualities necessary to thrive at the collegiate level, as well.”
Cook, a 6-foot-1 forward, led Washington’s Liberty High School to the WIAA 2B State Championship. She made All-District First Team, All-State Honorable Mention, and All-Region Small School Honorable Mention. She played club basketball for the Spokane Legacy and was also an All-State volleyball player.
“Aleena is going to blow people away with what she can do athletically on the court,” Moore said. “Every time I watched her play last summer, there was a play that left my mouth agape and in awe of what I just saw. Usually it was an incredible blocked shot, but she also has amazing speed in transition and has the ability to be an elite rebounder.”
Saenz, a 5-8 guard, made Second-Team All-State for Mountain View High and was chosen All-State Tournament First Team after leading her team to the championship. She played her club basketball for the Boise Hoop Dreams.
“The first time I watched Laila play, I knew she was an ideal guard for our program,” Moore said. “Her attention to detail, ability to make the right read offensively and her consistent shooting ability stood out right away.
“As I watched more, the things that are at the heart of our success became evident as well. She is passionate about playing defense and thrives on the challenge of guarding other team’s best players. She has an insatiable work ethic to continually improve and she makes her teammates around her better.”
Okonkwo, a 6-2 forward, earned All-Baseline League honors while leading Etiwanda High School to the quarterfinals of this year’s CIF-State Open Division Tournament.
“Destiny will bring us some much-needed size and strength in the post,” Moore said. “Her upside is huge due to a combination of athleticism, strength and IQ that will enable her to flourish in our program. She also comes to us from a very successful high school program, Etiwanda, where she is used to the high expectations and pressure of competing for championships.”
Okonkwo, who played club ball for West Coast Premier Valley Elite, will be an Augustinian Scholar at Westmont.
“She not only has a GPA that is through the roof, but she embodies the strong character we value and has over 150 hours of community service,” Moore said.