The Lady Pioneers spend time together off the court, too -- both for socializing and for service, such as this trip to a retirement home.
The midpoint of an athletic team’s building season is a kind of like looking at half a glass of water—you have to decide how you want to look at it. Fortunately, PUC’s Pioneers women’s basketball is a team full of hard-working optimists.
“We don’t have a winning record,” admits forward Vanessa Felder. “But we’re getting to the point where we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we’re pushing forward.”
Felder, a junior, is one of only two upperclassmen on this year’s squad. The rest are sophomores who have only been playing together since last season. It’s been the team’s biggest challenge this year as they face more experienced opponents in the California Pacific conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“Everybody that we recruit knows that we’re very young; we’re building toward the future,” says assistant coach Doug Wilson. “But this year we’ve won as many games as they have in the past four years. So the morale really is good.”
This goal of continual improvement is what keeps the women motivated on the court. But during this building year, the coaches and the players are also working on another critical value off the court: building a team that operates as a family. “It’s one of the points of emphasis that we have in our program,” says Wilson. “I don’t think you’re going to find a closer bunch of kids that truly fight for each other and care about each other.”
“We do a lot of extracurricular stuff where we get to do everything together,” says sophomore forward Devin Tinny, “and we find more in common with each other than we ever thought we could.”
That includes elaborate events like team camping trips and group philanthropic opportunities. During the conference preseason, the women took time out during a weekend tournament in Southern California to visit with residents at a nearby retirement home—an experience that still brings a smile to the players’ faces three months later.
But more regularly, that bond is formed in the women’s day-to-day interactions. “We hang out so much off the court,” says sophomore center Erin Treux. “After games and practices we go out to eat together—just doing stuff where we can spend time together because we all get along.”
“We’re like sisters,” adds freshman guard Gabby Alvero.
In addition to the sense of family that has developed among the players, they’ve also noticed a benefit on the court. “You get used to people’s tendencies when you’re on the court with them,” says Treux, a sentiment matched by several other women on the team.
The steady improvement is not the only thing that gives the team hope for the future. According to Wilson, the coaches have ramped up the team’s scouting efforts this year. “We have probably 30-40 kids that we’re currently recruiting,” he says. “We’re looking at high schools, academies, Christian schools, public schools, everywhere.”
In addition, the coaches tentatively hope to have a partial athletic scholarship available to offer to those players in the near future. “We have students that are so busy with just the academic side that when you add their basketball commitment they don’t have a lot of time to work,” he says. “I feel like a scholarship would be paying them for their role as ambassadors and leaders on and off this campus.”
The team has ambitious goals for the rest of this season and the next. “We want to be one of the top three teams in the league,” says Wilson. Others are even more specific and more ambitious. “I really want to go undefeated in the league next year,” says Treux.
They may be ambitious goals, but with everything they’re seeing and doing on and off the court, the Pioneer women have reason to hope for the future. “We see not how it is, but how it will be,” says the team’s only senior, center Claudia Balderas. She, like the rest of the team, is expecting to see the second half of this season very full.
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