November ushers in a familiar setting. Hardwood floor. The sound of sneakers cutting, pivoting, sprinting. The ball bouncing and the net swooshing. But this isn’t all that November brings; the month also welcomes in a new start, a clean slate, another chance at redemption.
On Nov. 17, the UC Santa Cruz Women’s basketball team will don their navy blue and gold against William Jessup in the West Field House. It will be the first game of the upcoming season, and the Lady Slugs are out to prove themselves.
“Our mantra this year is prepare to win, expect to win,” said new head coach Todd Kent, who is the driving force behind this rekindled sense of vigor, focus and desire to win from a team that hasn’t finished above .500 since the 1994-95 season.
Alison Scarbrough, a second-year guard and forward, says that the change in coaching staff helped the team look to the future and move on from last season when they finished 9-18.
“We are more focused this season,” Scarbrough said.
Kent inherited the head coaching reigns from Nikki Turner in June when she accepted an assistant coaching position with Cal State East Bay. Kent brings Division I-level coaching experience to UCSC, having served as assistant coach for Seattle University for two years. He also compiled a 106-23 record in five seasons as head girl’s basketball coach for La Salle High School in Yakima, Washington.
But it’s neither his experience nor his winning record that has reinvigorated the team.
“Just the fact that we got a new coach, and the attitude that he brings … he just gives us motivation,” senior guard Iveth Cuellar said of Kent.
Kent does not plan to center the program entirely on winning; rather, he emphasizes that winning is a product of hard work and responsibility.
“If you teach these student athletes what it means to be accountable to what they’re trying to do — and to each other — and you teach them what it means to work hard and be consistent with their hard work, the winning takes care of itself,” Kent said.
This work-hard, practice-hard and always-improve philosophy stems from Kent’s strong emphasis that the Lady Slugs be student athletes, rather than the athlete students.
“Family is number one, academics is right up there and athletics is a distant third,” Kent said. “I use it as a vehicle to try and make them better students and better people of the community.”
Players hope that Kent’s philosophy and attitude will guide them to the postseason this year.
“Our goal is to get to the tournament,” said sophomore guard Danielle Mofsowitz.
When asked how she felt about playing in her first basketball game at the collegiate level, freshman guard Brittany Hughes said, “It’s crazy. I’m excited [and] a little nervous.”
Cuellar shares similar feelings with Hughes, but says everyone has to put them aside and focus on the game at hand.
“You always have those butterflies . . . when you’re out on the floor,” she said. “You [either] go hard or go home.”