Picked to finish sixth in the Big West, a battle-tested Cal State Fullerton squad looks to prove the doubters wrong come league play, even if their guard-heavy roster, rebounding woes and abysmal non-conference record say otherwise.
While for Big West squads, non-conference records are rarely solid indicators for future league performance (UCSB went 6-6 last year before finishing 15-1 in conference), the Titans (2-8 overall) record this season is even more misleading. If not for two devastating defeats in their last pair of games, in which they lost by a combined score of five, Fullerton would be riding a winning streak into Big West play instead of a losing skid. The Titans feared no team when it came to scheduling this year and it cost them, resulting in double-digit losses against UCLA, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Pepperdine before the holiday break.
One of the major reasons Fullerton has seemingly underachieved this non-conference season is a result of the four-week absence of senior forward Toni Thomas, thanks to an injury suffered against Vanderbilt on Dec. 5. Thomas, who averaged 17.1 points and 7.9 rebounds as an All-Big West first-teamer last year, scored 16 during the loss to Columbia and should be close to 100 percent come conference play according to Head Coach Maryalyce Jeremiah.
“[Thomas]’s absence in the last four weeks has taken a toll on our game,” said Jeremiah. “It will take her some days to reacclimatize to the court but hopefully as conference progresses, so will she. It is hard to lose your leading scorer on any team. The plus side of that is that everyone else had to get better and step up, and for the most part, that has happened. Her absence has had an effect on our pre-conference record, but hopefully, we are a strong team because of it.”
With the absence of Thomas’ inside scoring, the Titans turned to their sophomore sharpshooter Lauren Chow for points, and the former Big West Freshman of the Year has not disappointed. In 10 games played, Chow has posted double figures in eight of them, ranking second on the team in points per game with 12.7. Besides owning scoring numbers that place her fifth in the Big West, Chow has distributed the ball well with 35 assists so far, good for fourth in conference. Furthermore, Chow leads the Big West in 3-point field goals with 28 and ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.30.
“[Chow]’s value to this team in every way is hard to put into words,” Jeremiah said. “She knows the game, sees the court, can score and pass and play hard. She is simply just one of the best I have coached in my career. She is a humble, unselfish young woman who works hard daily to improve her game. She is an excellent student off the court and sets stellar examples in every way for our team.”
Although at times Chow looks as if she can do it all in the backcourt, Fullerton sports a guard-heavy roster that is fully capable of taking over when needed. Senior Daviyonne Weathersby, who has started all 10 games this season, leads Fullerton not only in steals with 21, but also in turnovers with 34. Junior transfer Sabrina Gonzalez and true freshman Megan Richardson are two newcomers to the Titan backline, with Richardson earning minutes in all 10 games this year. The Mira Costa product has shot 43.6 percent from the field and is tied for third on the squad with 8.8 points per game. At 5’8”, junior Jasmine Scott also averages 8.8 a game, but at the same time leads her team in rebounding, grabbing 53 so far. Even with all those names, Fullerton still can produce quality guards like sophomore Lyndsey Grove, who scored a career-high 18 points during the Columbia loss. Grove is fifth on the team with 7.1 points per game.
“I think the major thing that is better in our team is the number of people who can score,” said Jeremiah. “With the addition of Megan Richardson and Sabrina Gonzalez, we now have ‘bigger’ perimeter players who can score, penetrate and rebound. When everyone is healthy, they give us major depth in our backcourt.”
If the Titans can improve their rebounding, (they currently rank next to last in that category), and are able to overcome match-up problems down low, look for Fullerton to surprise a few teams utilizing their outside shooting as Big West play commences.