After coming off an emotional 80-76 loss to Boise State in the Mountain West Tournament Championship game last year, Fresno State’s women’s basketball program hopes to use that tough loss to learn from and build upon it to achieve greater success this season.
The team returns the dynamic scoring duo of the Cavinder twins back to the court this season, looking to lead their squad with their all-around scoring ability, playmaking skills, and gritty defense.
Haley Cavinder was a standout player last season as she became the fastest to score 1,000 points in program history, accomplishing the feat in just 57 games.
Cavinder was just the third sophomore in Mountain West history to be named the Conference Player of the Year and was its first since 2004. Last season, she averaged 19.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game to earn the prestigious award.
“She just puts in so many extra hours and tries to improve every single day, so just seeing her being able to achieve that last year was definitely something I am super proud of her for, so shout out Haley,” Hanna Cavinder said about her sister’s accomplishment.
Poised to do it again this season as a junior, Haley started it off in an exhibition game against Fresno Pacific University by earning a double-double scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. She added four assists and a steal on the night as well in a full stat line.
Hanna mentioned that her sister will be adjusting to being the team’s point guard this season.
“She is taking on a different role of being a point guard this year and she’s been working on that all summer,” Hannah said.
However, Haley wasn’t the leading scorer in the win. Her sister Hanna beat her by one, putting up 22 points and grabbing six rebounds while dishing out four assists to go along with them. She showed off her skills defensively as well intercepting passes and grabbing loose balls, racking up three steals.
The twins shot almost identical on the night with Haley shooting 9-of-15 and 2-of-3 from the 3-point line and Hanna shooting 9-of-14 and 1-of-2 from three.
The all-out hustle and work ethic the duo possesses is unmatched while on the floor, showing great speed and quickness when sprinting after loose balls and picking off passes for steals. They are practically the same type of player and can be substituted for each other with no loss of strength for the team on the court.
This year’s team features a lot of new faces and some key returners as well.
One of the newcomers who stood out in the exhibition game was Jessica Peterson.
The 6-foot-2 freshman out of Etiwanda High School had a solid game contributing nine points, grabbing four boards, adding a block, and a steal in the win.
Washington native Tamia Stricklin was another new face who impacted the game scoring six points and pulling down three rebounds as well.
“We have three new kids right now in the starting lineup and we have four new freshmen and you know you saw some minutes from Jess Peterson she did a good job and Tamia Stricklin is going to be a great player for us,” head coach White said.
She added, “It was nice to be able to see them see some different combinations, run some of our stuff and just really again kind of get the nerves out and calm down and just play Bulldog basketball.”
The more experienced players on this roster should help calm those nerves and balance out the inexperience and youth of the team this season.
6-foot-2 senior from Brazil Maria Guimaraes is definitely one of those veteran players who has made strides in her game to help the team on the glass and contribute by scoring and playing tough defense in the paint this season.
The starting center was the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and rebounder on the night behind the Cavinders, putting up 11 points and grabbing six boards with an assist as well.
“I think this year is different from last year. We had a summer, so I could be working with the coaches here and so I think it was the biggest difference because I had more time to put more work in, and I think that helped a lot,” Guimaraes said.
Another Bulldog with experience was starting guard senior Yanina Todorova. The Bulgarian native had six points and grabbed three rebounds, as well as swiping two steals and adding an assist in the blowout.
Look for Guimaraes and Todorova to provide veteran leadership, intelligence and poise to an otherwise young team this season.
Overall on the night, the Bulldogs shot the ball well, as they hit a 54% field-goal percentage. But they shot 33.3% from downtown.
Something they are going to need to improve on going forward is shooting free throws. They shot 47.6% from the line going, 10-for-21 on the night.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I think we are definitely going to improve on that. Shoot a couple more extras after practice, but, yeah, we’ll definitely improve on that. That’s not good,” Hanna said.
White also said the team needs to get comfortable with shooting free throws with fans in the stands again this year.
“Well, the funny thing is last year I blamed it on no noise. You know, it felt like a technical every time you were shooting a free throw, and so this year I think we just got to get comfortable with that,” White said.
Despite the free-throw shooting, the Bulldogs had an outstanding performance in a blowout victory in their exhibition game.
They will kick off the regular season on the road in Utah taking on Utah Valley this Thursday, Nov. 11, with tipoff set for 5 p.m.