The day before a first-of-its-kind postseason opportunity, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team was awarded for a first-of-its-kind regular season.
During a Monday morning practice held in preparation for tonight’s 7 p.m. Big West Conference Tournament opener at Mott Gym against Cal State Fullerton, the Mustangs learned that they’d received some high praise from the rest of the league’s coaches.
Senior shooting guard Rachel Clancy was selected as the Big West Player of the Year, and 14th-year head coach Faith Mimnaugh was named the league’s coach of the year.
“It was such a surreal moment,” Clancy said. “I was just surprised, humbled and appreciative.”
The announcements came after the Mustangs (16-11 overall) finished 12-4 in Big West play, tied with UC Santa Barbara for the league’s regular-season title. In terms of either the regular season or conference tournament, it’s the first Big West banner for Cal Poly since joining the league prior to the 1996-97 season.
Cal Poly owns a tiebreaker over the co-champion Gauchos, and therefore will open the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed for the first time.
Coming from Limerick, Ireland, after twice being honored as the country’s under-20 national player of the year, Clancy played her freshman season at Duquesne, in Pittsburgh, before transferring to Cal Poly. The uniqueness of her story doesn’t stop there, though.
A biological sciences grad student, Clancy was recently named to the Academic All-America third team. Having completed her undergrad work following her junior season, Clancy contemplated returning overseas.She chose to use her final year of eligibility, though, and came back into the fold for one more run before embarking to continue her postgraduate studies in London.
“Last year I just had a lot of fun,” Clancy said. “I got really close with the girls on the team, and I felt like it wasn’t time to say goodbye.”
There were plenty of encouraging reasons to come back, as the Mustangs were set to return a majority of the roster from back-to-back 11-5 league seasons.
“I think she saw that everything she had worked for in trying to build this program was now being realized,” Mimnaugh said, “and she wanted to be a part of that again.”
Just two minutes into the season opener, though, the Mustangs lost leading scorer and reigning conference player of the year Kristina Santiago to a season-ending knee injury. In the wake of that potentially devastating loss, the entire supporting cast has elevated its play, but Clancy — called by Mimnaugh a “coach on the floor” — has emerged as a consistent catalyst at the forefront.
“To see it come together, and for her to have so much success as a senior has been thrilling,” Mimnaugh said. “Coming back and leading us to a championship, the first-ever, she was the right person at the right time. She’s been first-class in everything she has done.”
Clancy is averaging 16.3 points, No. 2 in the Big West. Her 71 makes from 3-point range are No. 1 in the league, as is her minutes-per-game average in conference play (37.1).
Two of Clancy’s teammates also earned all-conference honors. Junior center Abby Bloetscher (11.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game) was named to the second team, while point guard Jonae Ervin (eight points and 3.3 assists per game) was chosen to the all-freshman team, as well as for overall honorable-mention status.
Clancy and Mimnaugh have savored the historic level of community interest the program has generated of late. For instance, a record-shattering crowd of 2,552 showed up for their regular-season finale, a 78-64 loss to UCSB.
In years past, all Big West tournament games have been played at the Anaheim Convention Center, with attendance sparse for the early-round midweek games.
The conference changed the format, though, so that now, first-rounders are played on-campus. Thus, tonight’s quarterfinal matchup with the eighth-seeded Titans (9-20) will mark the first occasion in Cal Poly history that the program has hosted a Big West tournament game.
LEWIS, HANSON, LOVE ALSO NAMED ALL-BIG WEST
From the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, senior wing Shawn Lewis was named to the all-Big West Conference first team, junior forward David Hanson was awarded second-team accolades and point guard Maliik Love was chosen as the league’s co-Freshman of the Year.
Lewis, the seventh-leading scorer in Cal Poly history at 1,265 career points, is averaging 15.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Hanson also averages 15.1 points, in addition to 6.2 rebounds. Love, a true freshman, has started 27 of 29 games, and is shooting a team-best 47.5 percent from the floor.
Cal Poly (15-14, 10-6) will open the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed, taking on seventh-seeded UC Riverside (11-18, 6-10) at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Long Beach State junior point guard Casper Ware, one of 20 national Bob Cousy Award finalists, was named the Big West player of the year and defensive player of the year.
The regular-season champion 49ers (20-10, 14-2) also saw Dan Monson win coach-of-the-year acclaim.
HASAY HONORED AGAIN
Oregon sophomore Jordan Hasay, a former Mission Prep standout from Arroyo Grande, was named a West Region Track Athlete of the Year on Monday by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Hasay is currently the national mile leader with a time of 4 minutes, 34.75 seconds. She’s also in the top-five nationally in the 3,000 meters, at 9:05.42, and ran the lead leg for the Ducks’ top-ranked distance medley relay.
SIX COUGARS NAMED ALL-WSC
Six Cuesta College basketball players made the all-Western State Conference teams.
From the Cougars’ men’s squad (12-17, 3-9), freshman forward Malte Kramer, the team’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, earned first-team honors. Teammates Luis Marrero (who averaged 7.4 points per game) and Sam Milhous (7.0 points per game) were honorable mentions.
For the Cuesta women’s team (5-20, 3-9), freshman forward Kati Sheldon, a former Paso Robles High star, was named to the all-WSC first team after posting team-best averages of 15.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.
Anika Bauermeister (12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) and Jayme Salim (14.7 points and 2.6 steals) were honorable mentions for the Cougars.