Illustration by Thovatey Tep
Illustration by Thovatey Tep.

Amid uncertainty of winning an NCAA tournament invitation, UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball was the only team in the country out of 13 independent DIII teams to win an open bid and compete in the NCAA tournament in Puget Sound, WA.

In their first and only match on March 3, the Slugs faced the 10th place national team and tournament host, University of Puget Sound. Unable to match their strength and speed, the Slugs lost 93-74.

“They just were stronger than us […],” said senior women’s basketball captain Michelle Poole. “They are an amazing program and they have an amazing strength and conditioning program.”

The Slugs finished the first quarter holding a slight lead of 15-14, but Puget Sound responded by brushing past UCSC’s defense to score 30 more points in the second quarter. Though the Slugs narrowed the gap in the final two quarters, they could not regain momentum to overtake Puget Sound.

“We played hard, we played together,” Poole said. “My only wish is that we played them earlier in the season to start building up. We play a weird season where we play DI and DII teams, so if we were in a conference where we had the opportunity to play more ranked DIII teams it would have put us at ease a little more and made us more confident.”

Despite ending its year in a loss, the team celebrated some milestones. Sophomore Sonya Ivanovic scored 13 points, alongside senior Michelle Poole and sophomore Katie Young who scored 11 and 10 points respectively. But it was senior Tyler Stewart who proved to be the team’s top scorer with 25 points, finishing her final college game with a tie for the second highest score in UCSC’s history.

“My team is full of scorers,” Stewart said. “We kind of know who has the hot hands and for that game it just happened to me. If someone else had been scoring really well we would have kept shooting them and they would have had their night.”

This is the second time women’s basketball has competed in NCAA tournaments in the school’s history. The early elimination was a blow to the team’s spirit, though it was a good opportunity for the women’s team recognition.

“We’re not even on people’s radar,” said Michelle Poole. “All of us play with a chip on our shoulder because the whole world doubts us. All it takes is the 15 people on our team to believe in us and I think playing with that chip on our shoulder we have nothing to lose because no one even thinks of us.”