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A different kind of Cougar team

Posted: November 17, 2009 10:37 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2009 4:30 a.m.
College of the Canyons freshman Nicolette Nassif, left, passes the ball in practice last Friday. College of the Canyons freshman Nicolette Nassif, left, passes the ball in practice last Friday.
College of the Canyons freshman Nicolette Nassif, left, passes the ball in practice last Friday.

One year ago, College of the Canyons women’s basketball head coach Greg Herrick said he had the most athletic team he had ever coached.

The talent was seemingly overflowing.

But this season, Herrick has something different.

Much different.

“It’s as challenging a season as I’ve had in my career, and that goes back 31 years,” he said.

According to Herrick, it all comes down to talent.

In all fairness, this year’s team has a lot to live up to given the success of the 2008-09 Cougars.

COC won its 11th women’s basketball conference title, four players were named to the All-Western State Conference first team, Herrick won WSC Coach of the Year and the team went a perfect 12-0 through league play.

This year’s team is 0-2.

“We had our meeting with the (WSC) coaches and I told them we aren’t very good,” Herrick said. “They all started laughing. ‘What does that mean, you are only going to win 20 games this year?’ Everyone was joking about it. I don’t sandbag.”

Gone are guards Britney Bradley, Arielle White and Enchantee Merriman and forward Charity Smith.

The four players accounted for 43.8 points per game.

“The gun just doesn’t have a lot of bullets in it,” Herrick said. “Like (assistant coach Harlan Perlman) said, we are just going to have to end up just throwing the gun.”

However, one of those bullets is returning All-WSC first-team forward Ashley Wakefield, who averaged 12.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists per game.

Herrick said he expects the sophomore to carry the team and could be the best player in the conference this season.

Wakefield is also one of the team’s tallest players, standing 5 foot 10 inches, topped only by sophomore forward Joslynn Frazier at 6 feet tall.

“We have to push the ball more because we don’t have too much height,” Wakefield said. “If we don’t, they are going to try to push us in the post.”

Therein, Wakefield touches on one Cougar constant.

COC plans to run — again.

It will be Hart graduate Kelli Lewis, who sat out last season with the third torn anterior cruciate ligament of her career, who will be behind the controls.

Lewis was a four-year varsity player at Hart, and while she said she played point guard under head coach Zach Koebel, the style was much different than Herrick’s.

“We like to run,” Lewis said. “We see the floor. We look for each other. We are always trying to move, trying to keep going.”

The mentality also applies to the Cougars’ swarming defense.

“We move a lot faster to make up for our height differential,” she said. “We try to play as an explosive team, as a faster team. Keep the defense on their feet.”

Her partner in the backcourt is slated to be Samantha Cross, who is currently battling a neck injury sustained in COC’s season-opening 87-80 loss to Riverside on Nov. 6.

Cross is expected to spread the floor and be a threat from the 3-point line.

“Last year, we just relied on our talent,” Cross said. “This year, we have to rely on working hard because last year we could get away with anything and make up for it with talent.”

Cross averaged 3.9 points off the bench last year.

Now a veteran, she can see that her young teammates are going through growing pains.

“I think it’s just an adjustment period and the next game they will know what’s happening and what’s coming,” Cross said.

She expects to be available for the Cougars’ game tonight at home against Long Beach City.

Wakefield, Cross and Lewis are joined in the starting lineup by Frazier and sophomore forward Ashley Mason.

Frazier added 4.6 points and 4.5 boards per game, while Mason 3.6 points and 4.2 rebounds last season.

Off the bench, COC will have two forwards and four guards on their roster, including Golden Valley graduates Tera McKelvey and Sara Desposito.

Sure, the team is off to a slow start and yes, they may lack some of the elements that previous teams could boast, but this year’s Cougars squad knows what it will take to be successful.

Wakefield emphasized attitude.

Lewis said chemistry.

Cross said experience.

However, everyone could agree on one thing — work ethic.

“Some people are lucky because they are automatically athletic, but if you work for it, at the end it feels better,” Lewis said. “It’s better because you know what you had to do to get there.”



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