Sarah Van Buskirk
The La Verne women’s basketball team ended their historic season in a nail biting 70-69 loss against the Redlands Bulldogs in the Southern California Intercollegiate Conference championship game Saturday evening at Frantz Athletic Court.
“The goal for this season was to restore the glory of the program and take it back to the championship days where it was before I got here,” head coach Jason Pruitt said. “We wanted to get back on track to championship level status and I think we were able to accomplish that this year.”
The Leopards controlled the paint on Feb. 23, where they ignited the first round of SCIAC championship play in a 72-57 victory versus the Cal Lutheran Regals which was the advancing ticket to Saturday’s matchup.
Despite the tournament’s outcome, the Leopards still held onto an incredible season with a 15-1 conference record and a 24-3 overall record. La Verne secured the No.1 seed in the tournament for the first time in the history of the program, and there is more to celebrate than the players. Pruitt took SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year Award as he led his Leopards through an outstanding season.
“We have this motto that we followed throughout the season, which was ‘Not too high, not too low, keep it steady’,” junior forward Chiara Brown said. “Every practice, every game we just wanted to stay level and focused to the point where we took every competition seriously.”
During Saturday’s game, the Leopards were held down early by the Bulldogs and by the first three minutes, Redlands had taken a 9-1 lead. The Bulldogs took advantage of the lead and kept the ball rolling all of the first quarter and started up the next with a 26-16 margin.
“Our game plan for Saturday was knocking down their shooters and making sure they do not get as many threes,” graduate student guard Dejanee Gill said. “Redlands is bigger than us height wise so we had to be a little more physical by keeping them out of the paint and limiting their rebounds.”
The second quarter was not much of a difference for the Leopards as they were still trailing by a fair deficit. Fighting to narrow the Bulldogs lead, the Leopards were draining shots but not enough to secure a lead change. The Leopards remained focused as they only allowed the Bulldogs to outscore them 18-15 as they headed into halftime down 44-31.
After a quick trip to the locker rooms, the Leopards desire to win kicked in and after tremendous efforts by Brown, Gill, graduate student guard Jazzlyn Johnson, senior forward Kendall Stanley and sophomore guard Dawson Bell, the Leopards were able to swing the score in their favor.
It was during the slimming minutes of the third quarter that put the pressure on the Leopards to take the lead. With two minutes left in the quarter, Stanley’s layup pushed the score to 49-48. After a timeout by La Verne and a turnover from the Bulldogs, Gill’s layup to the basket allowed the Leopards to take the lead for the first time all game, 50-49. La Verne outscored Redlands in the third quarter 21-6.
However, that late motivation was not enough to stop the Bulldogs from plowing their way back to the top in the fourth quarter and securing their close 70-69 victory as they outscored the Leopards by a mere 20-17.
The Leopards wrap up their season and postseason contention as they look forward to next season and the opportunities it will bring.
“This season taught me that how much hard work you put into really determines your results,” Bell said. “That is what got us so far in our season because we all cared so much about the game.”
Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Van Buskirk is a junior journalism major and the 2022-2023 editor-in-chief of the Campus Times. She has previously served as sports editor and staff writer.