‘Tis the season. Whether it be for the holidays or any other reason, that’s up to the individual.
More importantly, it is the season in which the transition from late October through November marks the gradual return of college basketball.
On Tuesday, Oct. 24, the UCSB women’s basketball team made its media day appearance at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion.
Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson and two of the team’s starting players – redshirt senior forward Drew Edelman and redshirt junior guard Sarah Porter – attended the event.
Henrickson sat alongside the program’s new men’s basketball head coach, Joe Pasternack.
While the majority of follow up questions aimed at picking the brain of Pasternack, who is in his first season at UCSB; the calm, cool, and wholesome humor of Henrickson made supporters in attendance laugh and smile, signaling that UCSB women’s basketball is on the horizon.
The Gauchos are coming off their most successful season since facing Baylor University in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Their finish to the 2016-17 campaign, which ended with a 16-16 overall and 9-7 conference record, nearly ended their NCAA postseason drought during their Big West Tournament run.
Able to clinch the tournament’s No. 4 seed in its final games of the regular season, UCSB’s postseason surge led it to a Big West Tournament championship battle against No. 2 seed Long Beach State. By the grace of the ball clanking off the rim’s lip after a left corner three-point shot by Porter, the 49ers defeated the Gauchos 56-55.
Despite the heart wrenching loss, the Gauchos will enter the new season with a confidence knowing that they’re capable of making that next big step: an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Pressure is a privilege. It’s nice to talk about the expectations. But I have to go back to Coach [Mark] French, and I’m a caretaker of a program that man built. We walk by 14 [Big West] trophies every day,” Henrickson said. “Concerning the ‘expectation,’ as a staff, we’ve done a good job of not talking about how the championship game ended. If that’s all we talk about, then you don’t have time to talk about culture, competitiveness, character and unselfishness, which are all of the things that gave us a chance at the end. [Of course] our players have an expectation to have a great year which comes about from the hard work it takes. Part of the excitement with this senior group and Sarah as a junior is how much they’ve gotten better since we’ve left Anaheim to now. For us, it’s about getting better every day.”
Excluding what takes place on the court, each of the mentioned qualities truly does stick with each player and their mindset.
Making the difference for Porter, who sat out in Henrickson’s debut year due to NCAA transfer rules, has been one specific dimension of the team’s dynamic: Culture.
“Since day one, Coach Bonnie has talked about turning the program’s culture around,” Porter said. “She and the coaching staff have done so. I’m excited for the freshmen on the team because they’re joining a program that is going to make them better both on and off the court.”
During the time in which she sat out, Porter was able to witness this culture manifest itself from the ground up. Usually displaying a reserved yet competitive demeanor while on the court, Porter’s poise are elements that have been further developed by Henrickson’s culture since being at the helm.
It’s a characteristic that resonates throughout the program from top to bottom.
As the leader of the pack, following a year in which she led both UCSB in scoring (11.7 points per game) and the Big West in field goal percentage (61.4), Edelman senses that the Gauchos’ potential still sustains much upside.
“Last year was a rebuilding year. This year is totally different,” she said. “We have such better attitudes going around, better energy and everyone is working well together. Last year I didn’t want to overstep my [boundaries] since I was new and I didn’t really know how the team played together yet. This year, I feel more comfortable with being more comfortable on the court and having people look to me for advice while I also look to other people.”
Such anticipation hasn’t surrounded the Gauchos’ women’s basketball program since its heydays of running the Big West within the past two decades dating back to 1991.
While no guarantees are in place for UCSB to make a return to the NCAA Tournament, it is evident that the team’s players and personnel have fully bought into the belief that anything is possible heading into year three with Coach Bonnie.
UCSB will face Cal State Bakersfield at the Thunderdome in an exhibition on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 5 p.m.