On the bright side, things can only get better for the Matadors.
After a dismal 2007-08 season, Northridge looks to move forward into the 2008-09 campaign, which opens up Friday far away from home.
Last year, the Matadors started the season on a 21-game losing streak, before winning their only game of the season Feb. 21 at Cal State Bakersfield, 73-72. It took a basket by Katie Holloway with two seconds left on the clock to give Northridge the victory. She led the Matadors in scoring last year and was the hero on CSUN’s lone shining moment.
However, the hero is now gone. Holloway finished off her four years of basketball last season, as a new cast of players appeared. There were no returning starters last year from the previous season, and it showed in the performance. They finished with a 1-26 overall record, including a 0-16 conference mark and a record of 0-13 at The Matadome.
‘It wasn’t so much their inexperience as players, but their inexperience as a unit,’ said Head Coach Staci Schulz. ‘They’ve played together now and we’ve had some roster changes that should help the team.’
Included in those changes are four freshmen on the squad and forward Kayla Rutherford, who is a transfer from Hope International. She redshirted last season and is making her Matador debut this year.
‘Kayla has been a really nice surprise,’ said Schulz, who is entering her fourth year as head coach. ‘She’s a very hard worker and has been very consistent so far in practice. I think we’ll see big things from her.’
Losing Holloway creates a void in the middle, but Schultz says they will work around it. ‘We’ve changed the way we play,’ she said. ‘We’re more up-tempo, we play a drive-and-kick game. We’re best suited for that type of play.’
The returning Matadors are ones who will determine whether or not this season will be a repeat of 2007-08. Senior guard Whitney Ligon was second on the squad in points then, behind Holloway, averaging 12.1 per game. One of her highlights included a school record-tying 40-point effort against Pacific Jan. 12. Fellow senior guard Tonicia Tademy is the facilitator in the CSUN offense. Last season she led the Big West Conference with 110 total assists, good for over four per game.
‘I’m going to be more vocal this year,’ said Tademy. ‘I have to run the offense so I’m going to be more confident in telling the team what to do.’
Up front, sophomore Analee Viena-Lota and junior Katrina Thompson return to help solidify the Matador front line. Viena-Lota led all returning Matadors in shooting from the field last season and was second on the team in steals. Thompson played in every game last season and ended the year with more-than-convincing performances. She averaged seven points, six rebounds and two assists per game in the last seven contests.
‘Our main focus is defense,’ said Thompson. ‘If we play on the same page and cut down on our fouls, everything will continue to improve.’
As suspected, following last year’s forgettable campaign, Northridge was picked to finish last in both the Big West coaches’ poll and the media poll. UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis, in that order, were picked to finish in the top three spots in both polls.
However, there’s a big difference between this year and the one’s before: Chemistry. ‘We’re all clicking together so early on and off the court,’ said senior Ashley Blake, who’s entering her fourth season playing for Northridge. ‘There’s a lot of great players and we know each other on a personal level. I’ve never seen chemistry this good since I’ve been here.’
The season opens up in Houston on Friday when they take on Rice University. Last year’s debacle has been put behind them.
‘We’re not looking back,’ said Schulz. ‘There’s no reason to. This team feels like they can compete and they are going to go out and prove it.’