Fresh off a conference tournament victory and a NCAA tournament birth, it’s safe to say the Humboldt State women’s basketball team had a successful season.
Before the season kicked off in early November, a lot of people could not have predicted such a successful year for the Jacks, much less a conference title.
The players understood the expectations, but looked to make a statement and defy them. The team had formed a polarizing bond ever since they started practicing together, and they never looked back from there.
“We all felt that we were a special group from the first time we met,” sophomore Tyra Turner said.
Throughout the season, the Lady Jacks displayed a perfect match of comradery throughout the squad, and a burning desire to win. The team also had a great knowledge of their own limitations.
“We’re a small team, so we spread the floor and try to get people to guard us outside,” junior Jovanah Arrington said.
“I’m 5’10 trying to guard girls that are 6’3,” junior forward Isamar Conde said.
This was on full display after they lost their first conference game to Chico State, but they responded by winning their next seven conference games.
“Our offense struggled in the first couple of games, so we had to win games with our defense,” Conde said.
Over that seven-game win streak, the team held opponents to just 57 points per game.
This seven-game win streak was snapped by UC San Diego, who beat the Lady Jacks twice before facing off in the conference title game.
After the loss to the UCSD Tritons, the Lady Jacks went 7-6 to end the regular season. This left the team’s fate for the tournament in question after such a strong start.
However, the Lady Jacks still found themselves asking the same question over and over: why not us?
“[Head coach Michelle Bento-Jackson] said to us before the tournament started, ‘Why not us?’” Arrington said. “We couldn’t find a reason why we couldn’t beat every team in [the tournament].”
After beating Cal State East Bay and Cal Poly Pomona in the first two rounds of the tournament, HSU faced their toughest foe of the season in UCSD.
The Jacks lost their first two games of the season to the Tritons, and the second game was decided by 15 points. As always, the team’s confidence did not waiver.
“We almost beat them the first time,” Arrington said. “So why can’t we beat them again?”
HSU went on to win the title game 76-75 in a game that came down to an Arrington buzzer beater.
“I didn’t think too much before the shot,” Arrington said. “If I had, then I probably wouldn’t have made the shot.”
The win helped HSU qualify for the eight seed in the NCAA tournament, which matched them up with the number one seed, Azusa Pacific Cougars. The Lady Jacks upset the Cougars 66-60 before losing to Alaska Anchorage, 81-73.
For everyone on the team, besides Turner (who played last season for Long Beach State), this was their first appearance in the NCAA tournament. While they did not get the result they ultimately wanted, HSU gained some very valuable experience.
“I think we surprised a lot of people,” Conde said. “It’s a great feeling.”
With many key players returning next season, the Lady Jacks will look to build on what they accomplished this season.
“We came so far together as a team,” Turner said. “I just think that some of us are taking this as a learning experience for those of us who are going to be back for next year.”