Women’s basketball team makes history on Senior Night

Jack Janes
Sports Editor

For the first time in La Verne women’s basketball history, the Leopards are back-to-back regular season Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions with their 91-76 victory over the Chapman Panthers on Saturday night at Frantz Athletic Court.

“I feel great because I know how hard these young ladies worked, I know how much work they put in the offseason, when they came here when practices were starting,” head coach Anthony Mason said. “Learning a whole new system is tough, and we had to do it quickly and I’m just so proud of their resilience, their grit that they’ve shown all year and I’m so happy and so thrilled for them.”

Saturday night was also Senior Night and the team honored all eight seniors before the game with a ceremony where they received a framed La Verne jersey and photos with their families. These seniors were guard Valentina Limon, point guard Naomi Jackson, guard Crystal Menjivar, forward Jennifer Morales, guard Brianna Torres, forward Chiara Brown, guard and forward Aerin Wiggins and forward Aatilah Watkins.

“We remembered it was for the seniors,” junior guard Annie Trinh said. “Let them have a good, big win to end the regular season.”

The Leopards jumped out to a dominating start, not allowing the Panthers to get on the board until almost halfway through the first quarter. Brown and freshman forward Alyssa Smith ran the offense, combining for 16 of the Leopards 21 points in the opening quarter. Junior guard Marissa Howell’s three-pointer closed out the first quarter with a 21-9 Leopards lead.

The Panthers’ offense started to wake up in the second quarter, but it was no match to the Leopards, who hit five consecutive three-pointers from Trinh, Smith and Howell to bring the score to 36-23 Leopards. Jackson drove the basket for a layup, then Brown nailed a jumper and a fade-away buzzer-beater to end the first half with a 43-27 lead.

In the first half, the Leopards shot an impressive 51.6% from the field and 63.6% from the three-point line.

Picking up right where they left off, the Leopards started the third quarter strong with the help of three three-pointers from Limon to make it a 56-35 game. Then, Chapman found their groove and went on a 13-4 run to bring the game within 11 points. Jackson scored on a layup to end the third quarter 64-51.

In the fourth quarter, the Panthers continued to fight back, but the Leopards offense kept answering. In a back and forth affair, the biggest change in score was just by six points, which happened twice when the Leopards and Panthers traded six point runs. 

The first being the Leopards when Trinh was fouled on a layup then made the free throw and Smith drained a three-pointer to make it 83-66. Then the Panthers responded with a six-point run of their own with four free throws by freshman forward Shanna Brown and a jump shot made by freshman forward Layla Woods.

Then with a minute left, the foul parade arrived and the Leopards got their last eight points all from free throws to close out the game, 91-76, to win their second consecutive SCIAC regular season championship.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to go back-to-back and make history,” Chiara Brown said. “We set this goal in the beginning of the year so to be able to achieve it, it’s really special.”

Going into the game Saturday night, the Leopards were tied for first place in SCIAC with Cal Lutheran, so all the Leopards needed was a win to secure, at a minimum, a co-championship. Cal Lutheran ended up winning on Saturday as well, so the Leopards and Regals were crowned co-champions of the regular season.

“Mostly, we all knew we were nervous. We recognized that, talked to each other and coach helped us a lot with saying, ‘What do you do with your nervous energy,’ so we have our own personal things that we do with our nervous energy,” Smith said.

The Leopards finished the 2023-2024 regular season 17-6 overall and 13-3 in SCIAC play. They will played in the SCIAC Semi-Finals against Occidental on Thursday night at Frantz Athletic Court.

Jack Janes can be reached at jack.janes@laverne.edu.

Jack Janes, a senior journalism major, is sports editor of the Campus Times and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine. He is also a staff photographer for both publications. He previously served as a Campus Times staff writer.

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