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TMC women's preview: Mustangs’ extreme makeover

Master’s is still trying to gel after scrambling to replace three lost starters

Posted: December 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

(From left to right) Whitney Best, Zoe Scott, Morgan Schwegler, Lena Rivera and Ella Joines have helped The Master’s College overcome the loss of three starters.

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Implementing new schemes and adding wrinkles to an offense or defense during the season is common practice for any basketball team.

Being forced into a complete overhaul, though, is much rarer — and something no coach dreams of before the start of the season.

But that is essentially the position The Master’s College women’s basketball team finds itself in early in the 2011-2012 season.

Sitting at 5-4 overall and 0-1 in Golden State Athletic Conference play, the Mustangs have three potential starters missing time for various reasons, and additional injuries along the way have forced the Mustangs to maneuver players around the depth chart.

“We’re missing three post players,” said head coach Dan Waldeck. “This team has shown great resolve with missing three starting caliber players.”

Theresa Brown, a senior power forward, is out for the year with an injury, while sophomore Tami Brown has left the team for personal reasons and junior Kristen Huff has missed time with an illness.

“Theresa would have been a 20-10 kid,” Waldeck said. “It’s been a team effort (replacing her).”

Without an effective offensive threat to this point in the season, the Mustangs have used a combination of team speed and tenacity to improve on the defensive end.

“We all can defend any kind of player,” said sophomore starting guard Zoe Scott. “Even if we have a point guard on the post we all have the fundamentals, even if it’s for a quick second.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Waldeck.

“Honestly, we haven’t really played that well offensively,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone step up (on offense). They really buy into the defensive side of the ball.”

And it’s a good thing, too, because defending opponents’ post players with guards is just what the Mustangs have been forced to do.

After starting the season at the wing position, junior Lena Rivera has moved around the floor to play in the high post.

“We’ve experienced a lot of times where we have to refocus ourselves,” Rivera said. “I think it just takes a lot of mental preparation to change positions and change up the offense. We have a pretty young team through injuries and other things. I think that it’s just a little bit of adjustment through it and everyone is willing to do anything for the team.”

Because of all the shuffling, the Mustangs have lost an edge in the always-important rebounding game.

“I think we’re a little undersized,” Scott said. “But I think it’s not bad at all. (Rivera) is just such a fighter and so physical that she makes up for a lot of it.”

But with Rivera and others switching positions to fill other holes on the floor, some new faces are being forced into impact roles early in their Mustang careers.

Whitney Best, a freshman from Washington, now starts at the point guard position with fellow freshman Millie Rivera taking a prominent role defensively.

With Best’s ability to distribute the ball to Lena Rivera, Scott, senior guard Ella Joines and senior forward Morgan Schwegler, the Mustangs are hopeful Best can slip comfortably into the position Rivera vacated when she moved into the post.

“(Best) will be a great influence for us at the point guard position because she has the ball in her hands,” Scott said. “She’s done an outstanding job already. I think she’ll be a key player.”

The freshman has reached double-digit scoring in each of the Mustangs’ last four games, averaging 13.3 points over that stretch.

Despite the question marks that remain, the team’s outlook is positive.

“My expectations are the same as going into (the season). We’re a great team and we have talent. It’s just that the younger talent is going to have to step up more,” Lena Rivera said.

So far, the trials and tribulations have had only a slight impact on the Mustangs, with their record just over. 500 in what was a brutal preconference schedule.

The Mustangs, who will play tonight at home against Cal State San Marcos before returning to conference play on Saturday against Biola, have tried to prepare themselves for the grind of conference play by competing against some of the toughest competition in the country.

The Mustangs fell to then-NAIA No. 6 Freed Hardeman of Tennessee and No. 2 Union of Tennessee before rebounding to defeat No. 6 Bethel, also of Tennessee, and No. 11 Southern Nazarene of Oklahoma in November.

“I’m a big proponent of scheduling as tough a preseason as possible,” Waldeck said. “Some coaches want wins. Me, I want experience.”

Over the next two and a half months, the Mustangs will get an opportunity to test their resolve as they try to make the 32-team national tournament March 16-22 in Jackson, Tenn., despite numerous setbacks along the way.

“We want to make it to nationals, that’s our top goal,” Scott said. I think we just need to play as a team and play together. Once our offense starts rolling a little better we’ll be fine.”

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