Ariana Elegado’s self-imposed deadline has come and gone, and still, nothing’s certain.
Will she stay for her fifth-year senior season, or will she go? The Cal Poly women’s basketball team’s star guard wanted to make it official one way or another after spring break.
That ended more than a month ago.
Take it as a sign Elegado is finding basketball a little harder to walk away from than she might have thought.
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“You could definitely tell I would still want to play,” said Elegado, who still has a year of eligibility left but plans to graduate this spring and remains undecided on a graduate school.
“I told myself after spring break I’m going to for sure say, but every person that I run into, they always ask me am I still playing next year, and every time I have that conversation, it hits me, I can still play. It’s just real hard for me because I know I will definitely miss it.”
The Mustangs have to plan for her departure, and they have made moves to bolster the backcourt, including last week’s signing of All-America junior college transfer point guard Lisa Maria Sanchez of state champion Ventura College.
But, Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, the door remains wide open for the return of Elegado, a first-team all-conference honoree who led the Mustangs in scoring, assists and 3-pointers this past season.
“All of her teammates want her back,” Mimnaugh said. “Coaches, her family, everybody wants her to return. I don’t know how much of that is producing pressure.
“I try not to talk about it every time I see her, but she knows that she’s loved and wanted.”
Elegado averaged 18 points, totaled 144 assists and sank 86 3-pointers last season. Though senior center Molly Schlemer averaged 17.9 points and senior point guard Jonae Ervin tallied 139 assists, no one on the team had half the 3s of Elegado.
She met with coaches Thursday to discuss her options, but Elegado has sound reasoning for looking elsewhere.
Cal Poly’s sports marketing concentration is not as established as some of her alternatives, and to say nothing of her earnest chances to play professionally overseas, Elegado is eager to get started in the business world.
She secured a summer marketing internship with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. Elegado said that program ends in August, which would be the ideal time for her to rejoin the team.
It’s either Cal Poly basketball or nothing. Elegado said she wouldn’t play elsewhere, even if she enrolled at another university for post-graduate studies.
“There’s no way in my mind I would play for another school besides Cal Poly,” Elegado said. “They took care of me, and I wouldn’t do that to them, definitely.”
Whether she returns or not, the Mustangs will be a much different team. They’ll have to replace at least three starters — and four without Elegado.
Returners Kristen Ale, Beth Balbierz and Hannah Gilbert are top candidates for upgrades in playing time.
Ale was second on the team with 38 3-pointers and averaged 6.1 points in 20.5 minutes per game off the bench. Balbierz was third with 31 3s, and Gilbert, a sophomore and former Morro Bay High standout, is the most experienced returning center after averaging 3 points and 1.9 rebounds in nine minutes per game.
Sanchez scored 16.9 points for Ventura last season with 7.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game and led the state in both 3-point shooting percentage (41.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6).
Sanchez figures to start immediately, and Mimnaugh said she has the skills to not only become an all-conference performer but a national leader and a program record-breaker.
This past season, Ervin broke the career assists record that had stood for three decades.
“I felt like we needed some more experience at the point guard position,” Mimnaugh said. “It was really clear that we needed some more help at point guard and ended up getting the best point guard in the state.
“(Sanchez) has a shot at the assist record here, and I think she could do it in just two years. I would be shocked if she wasn’t one of the national leaders in assists per game. She’s great at pick-and-rolls. I anticipate we’ll do some more of that.”
Last week, Cal Poly also added Pepperdine transfer and former Greek U-18 national team member Amanda Lovely.
Averaging 6 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Waves this past season, Lovely will have two years of eligibility after sitting out the upcoming season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
Though Lovely will sit, the Mustangs will have immediate use of highly touted incoming freshmen Geralynn and Geraldynn Leaupepe of Adolfo Camarillo High.
The twins were the Los Angeles Daily News’ All-Area Co-Players of the Year after leading the Scorpions to the second round of the Division I state playoffs.
Mimnaugh said at least one of the Leaupepes is likely to be in the starting lineup next season. She might have a hard time distinguishing the better option.
They each averaged 20 points per game last season, with Geralynn holding a slight edge with 11.9 rebounds per game to Geraldynn’s 9.8.
“We’re really excited about what they’re bringing to the table,” Mimnaugh said. “They’re power players, penetrators, reboudners, defenders, and the 3 is coming along as well, which makes it even scarier.
“These two in particular are explosive kind of athletes, and we don’t have lot of those in our program.”