By Joshua D. Scroggin
Cuesta College women’s basketball head coach Ron Barba tried putting together the toughest nonconference schedule in his four seasons at the helm.
Five games into it, Barba can boast of a high-ranking RPI — a reflection of schedule strength — but his team isn’t having a tough time.
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So far, the Cougars have gone undefeated, they’ve made it look easy and they’re beginning to earn respect across the state going into tonight’s home opener in the 30th Annual Phillips 66 Tournament against Hartnell at 8.
“I’m really surprised we’re 5-0,” Barba said. “I thought we would have hit a few bumps.”
Cuesta hasn’t even hit a yellow light.
With sophomore Miriam Zabinski ranking fifth in the state at 22 points per game and fellow sophomore Courtney Chadwick pouring in 18.6, the Cougars are averaging 85.4 points per game and are beating opponents by an average of 35.2.
Cuesta’s closest game was a
74-63 win over Fullerton in the season opener. Nobody’s been within 37 points of the Cougars since.
Unranked to start the season, Cuesta now ranks 16th in the state and 10th in Southern California.
The Cougars have also been helped by the return of sophomore point guard Katie Rodriguez, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Rodriguez ranks third in the state with a 4.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and has hit seven of nine 3-point attempts, which also ranks third statewide in 3-point percentage (77.8).
Both Rodriguez and Chadwick, who also lost a season to injury, are essentially thid-year players who provide plenty of stability.
“That has helped us be
5-0 because there’s some intelligence there,” Barba said. “They’re good students in the classroom and great kids.”
The program is also benefiting from an influx of freshmen contributors as well.
Both Kaylee Williams and Morgan Liebscher were key contributors to the 2011-12 Mission Prep girls team that went 32-2 and lost by six in the CIF Division 5 State Championship game.
Williams redshirted a season before transferring to Cuesta, and Liebscher played at San Luis Obispo High last season before hurting her knee.
Having played the past three games upon returning from the injury, Liebscher is averaging 6.7 points and has hit 60 percent of her 3s.
Williams, who has started all five games, is averaging 7.6 points and ranks second in the state with a 5.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“We’re really pleased we got Liebscher and Williams,” Barba said. “We felt those were two good additions that were local.”
If all goes according to plan, Cuesta will keep its win streak alive and end up in Saturday’s championship game of the three-day Phillips 66 Tournament, and the Cougars could also get a preview of what is sure to be an intriguing Western State Conference North Division rivalry.
Allan Hancock College is in the opposite side of the bracket. Equaling their win total from all of last season, the Bulldogs are 4-1 under first-year head coach Cary Nerelli, a former longtime Morro Bay High coach.
Once a mentor to Barba, Nerelli faced off with the Cuesta coach many times at the high school level when his Pirates clashed with Barba’s St. Joseph squads in the Los Padres League.