The PLNU women’s basketball team will be beginning their season after beating the number one team in the country in last year’s regional tournament this week.
However, they will be without one of the most valuable players the program has had in school history.
That player was Jessica Escorza.
Last season, Escorza –a senior- led the Sea Lions in four categories including points, rebounds, assists and steals. She averaged 15 points, six rebounds and two steals per game.
“I’ve told the team, ‘I am not looking for any of you to be Jessica Escorza,’” said head coach Bill West- phal, who is entering his seventeenth and final season with PLNU. “‘I am looking for you all to be yourselves and a little better.’ And if everybody can average four or five points more than they did last year, then we’ll be a better team.”
Some players who are likely candidates to fill the scoring vacuum are junior Madison West –the second- leading scorer last season- and sophomore Roya Rustamzada. West, who shot 40 percent from the three-point line, was the second-leading scorer on the team last season with an average of 12 points per game.
Losing Escorza is not the only pitfall this team must address before the season opener.
The Sea Lions had an extremely rough start last season. During their first seven games, they shot 31.8 percent, averaged 8.7 assists and 13 turnovers per game.
Rustumzada, who averaged nine points per game and totaled a team- best 25 blocked shots last season, said the team was not familiar with each other’s play styles during the first seven games when they went 1-6 against their opponents.
“I think having so many new people on the team was the biggest struggle,” said Rustumzada. “We had so much individual talents, but it was so hard for us to fit all of the pieces together with the rest of the team. We all had our individual talents and skills, so it was literally just a matter of finding out who played best with who.”
Another team strength from last season was the ability to perform well in conference play. While the Sea Lions had a 20-12 overall record, they totaled a .750 winning percentage -15-5- in the PacWest Conference.
But records can be deceiving.
The Sea Lions went a combined 1-5 against Hawaii Pacific and California Baptist University—both schools finished first and second place in conference last season. In those six games, the team allowed an average of 73.33 points per game—11 points more than their season average.
Junior point guard Anna Viettry said the Sea Lion’s roster matches up well with Cal Baptist and Hawaii Pacific despite their poor record against them last year.
“We match up with them pretty well, but we have to understand and accept that they’re going to score baskets,” said Viettry. “We just have to respond and score back and do our best to stop them. I think it takes a really hard effort to stop them on defense first so we can relax on offense and just let our tempo flow.”
But leaving questions aside, coach Westphal said that he is looking be- yond achieving added coaching accolades before finishing his final year of coaching at PLNU.
“This is my last year, and that’s in the back of my mind,” said Westphal. “But win or lose, I think it’s going to be a successful year because of the people I am working with—I really enjoy the staff and the players. Regardless of the record, it’s going to be successful.”
The PLNU women’s basketball team will look to answer these questions as they look to their first home game of the season against Bethesda University on Wednesday, November 18.