Ranked atop the PacWest Conference in the coaches' preseason poll, along with Azusa Pacific, they also received votes in the initial Women's Basketball Coaches Association poll putting them just outside the top 25 teams in the country. Coach Lisa Faulkner and her staff hope to integrate their young talent with a core of returners to build into a dominant force in the conference and the region.
With several freshmen and one transfer, the team will have a new look after graduating multiple starters and several key players. Despite having many new faces the team has a core of returning player to help build around, including two All-PacWest preseason team members and 2016-17 all-region selections in Alex Brunk and Roya Rustamzada.
"We have two all-conference players in Alex and Roya," noted Faulkner. "Both did a great job this summer and are in great shape. Those two, along with our other senior Stephanie Williams, have taken on a big leadership role this season. Carol Schroeder was a freshman last year, and we will look to her to step up and contribute some good minutes for us. Those players along with some talented freshman and a transfer from the University of San Diego (Tayla Hepburn) will give us an opportunity to be really competitive this year."
While the team lost a good chunk of their scoring with graduating seniors, Kassidy Gengenbacher, Sydney Tonack, Anna Viettry, and Madison West, they still look to have several viable offensive threats. Brunk and Rustamzada are both strong offensive players returning for the Sea Lions, but the team brought in some height in the offseason that should affect how they will generate their offense.
"I think this year, we will have a little bit more of a post presence with Tayla Hepburn," Faulkner stated. "She is 6-2 and can post up but she has a versatile offensive game as well. We also have a 6-2 freshman, Grace Brady, from Long Island. Both of those players will look to be on the block more than last year's team. The new look is exciting for us but we still have talented guards who can push the ball up the floor. Even though we lost a lot of scoring we have replaced them with great players who can put the ball in the basket."
Point Loma was possibly the best defense in the conference last season, ranking first in conference in scoring defense, defending the three-pointer, defensive rebounds, and turnover margin. The team ranked second in almost every other defensive category, and they will look to build on that foundation to keep their defensive intensity.
"We are going to be a tough team defensively," said Faulkner. "Last season, we were a great man-defense team and were ranked towards the top of the conference. We led the league in several defensive categories, and I hope to see the same thing this season. I don't want to try to tweak something that worked so well for us but we hope to add some more defensive looks to our system. With our size and length, I think we can keep our opponents in front of us and still be a top defensive presence in the conference."
The team has a solid non-conference slate set up before diving into conference play at the beginning of December. The Sea Lions will be on the road for the first five games of their conference schedule with their conference home opener coming on January 3 against Concordia.
"We open our schedule in LA facing two tough regional opponents, Cal Poly Pomona and CSU Dominguez Hills. Pomona should be really good and Dominguez has great athleticism, while they have contrasting styles of play each game should be great early tests for us," said Faulkner.
"We need to get our younger players ready and we are dealing with injuries but these games should help us get where we need to be. We will face some quality opponents during our Thanksgiving tournament and we also have Cal State East Bay at home. East Bay was a tournament team last year and I am excited to have a quality non-conference schedule this season. It will help us prepare for our tough start to conference play, five games on the road including California Baptist and Azusa Pacific."
The team will have a great defensive core and the mix of core returners with the infusion of young talent should produce a well-balanced team.
"I think we are a team that can run, has good size, and we will have both an inside and outside presence," noted Faulkner. "I am really excited about our freshman point guard. I think she's so talented and a really good leader. She will be someone that people really enjoy watching. Defensively, I think we are tough-minded. We will be a great defensive and rebounding team. We may not be at our best in November but I think we will keep getting better as the season progresses. We hope to be at our peak in March."
After getting to the West Regional tournament a year ago, the team wants to put together another solid season, grow throughout the process and ultimately make it to the postseason once again.
"Ultimately, our goal is to get better every day," Faulkner explains. "We want to be near the top of the PacWest, and it is not out of the realm of possibility to win the PacWest. We would like to be an NCAA tournament team and we want to go as far as possible in that. Last year, our team lost four times to Cal Baptist, who was a Final Four team. All of those games were close, two of those games went to overtime.
“We know from those results that we can compete at a high level nationally. If we trust the process and continue to get better, by March we can be a team that no one wants to play. It will be interesting this season; last year we were a little underrated, but this season I don't think people will be surprised by us. We are going to have to play our best every game. If we do that, we have a really good chance of going really far into March."
With two all-conference players to build around and a solid class of incoming talent, the Sea Lions look poised to have another outstanding season. Coming off of a great season, the team will have a target on their back but they are ready to take on their competition and prove that they are just as dangerous, if not more, than last season's squad.
The team will tip-off their season in the CCAA/PacWest Challenge in Azusa, Calif. this weekend against Cal State Dominguez Hills on Friday at 3 p.m. The team will play again on Saturday against Cal Poly Pomona at 1 p.m.