The UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball team made a comeback to beat the La Verne Leopards 71-51 in the UCSC Holiday Classic on Dec. 3. The Leopards went on an 11-0 run and took an early lead, which they maintained throughout most of the first half.

Sophomore Sonya Ivanovic came off the bench and immediately made a steal which led to a layup, and would later sink a 3-pointer to tie the game up 22-22.

At the start of the second half, the Slugs scored the first three points, before senior Michelle Poole got two consecutive offensive rebounds and made a layup to give the Slugs a 36-35 lead. After giving up the lead, the slugs would retake it at 41-39 when senior Tyler Stewart made a jump shot.

The slugs gained their first double-digit lead at 51-41 with 1:37 left in the third quarter, helped by 3-pointers from Tyler and sophomore Katie Young. Poole continued to get offensive and defensive rebounds throughout the third quarter, allowing the Slugs to maintain dominant possession over the ball. They led 55-45 by the end of the third quarter.

The Slugs would go on a 12-2 run in the fourth quarter, helped by baskets from Young, Tyler, junior Kim Tom, and sophomore Katherine Mauldin. The slugs went on to win the game 71-51.

“I felt really good about the second half,” said head coach Todd Kent. “It showed a lot of determination. It was a great comeback, and a great win for the girls.”

Along with this game, the Slugs are making an overall comeback in their season. They got off to a 0-3 start to their season, but have since won three out of their last four games. They would go on to defeat the Pomona-Pitzer Saeghans on Sunday to win the Holiday Classic tournament. Freshman CJ Cantina attributes their recent success to a growing team camaraderie, both on and off the court.

“We’re all becoming closer as friends and as teammates, and starting to work much better together as a team,” Cantina said. “My favorite part is just hanging out with the team, during lunches and dinners. I love the camaraderie.”

The team consists of fourteen players, four of whom, like Cantina, are incoming freshmen. Cantina said her fellow freshmen provided her with a sense of community and belonging on and off the court.

“I’m really close with the freshmen, [they’re] like my family here,”Cantina said.  

Coach Kent said the incoming freshmen provide a solid new foundation, and he is proud of the way the team has improved recently.

“We’ve got four really good incoming freshmen, they all provide a lot of good things for our program and make us much better as a team,” Kent said. “Overall, we’re just starting to work really well together.”

With this growing sense of camaraderie and its recent victories, the team looks forward to a stretch of away games in their next three upcoming matches. They will go on the road to play against Chapman and Cal Lutheran in Southern California in mid-December.

Sophomore Sonya Ivanovic said she is excited for the challenge of playing a Division I team, and she is most looking forward to the team’s improvement throughout the rest of the season.

“We started out quite weak in our first game, and since then, game after game we’ve just gotten so much better,” Ivanovic said. “Continuing to do that is so exciting, and brings so much motivation, to all of us. I can’t wait to play against Santa Clara.”

Coach Kent said the team pays for their travels with a budget of roughly $4,500 to $5,000, of which they fundraise about 70 percent. They do this primarily by hosting youth summer camps and tournaments. They also host individual elite camps throughout the year, in which they train prospective college players on advanced methods to help them in their specified position. Their other method of fundraising is doing “game guarantees,” in which they get money for agreeing to play against another team outside of their league.

Budgets for Division III sports have become more precarious than ever right now at UCSC, as the athletics program is entering into a referendum year to see if Division III competition can be continued at Santa Cruz. Kent said that he hopes Division III competition can be continued on campus.

“It concerns me, and it’s a heartbreaker, because I love UCSC and I love what I do, and I think we provide a really cool part to the campus,” Kent said.

Kent said while the budgetary constraints do concern him, he remains optimistic for the future of Slug basketball.

“I think there’s a ton of people really putting forth the effort to find viable ways to fix it,” Kent said. “I feel like the momentum is so positive right now, and we’re going to have a good number for the referendum that the students will support. I think that good things are going to happen. We just want to keep playing basketball.”