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First-year Wildcat seizes opportunity to lead

Nick Martinez-Esquibel

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Chico State women’s head coach Brian Fogel and first-year guard Whitney Branham strategize during practice. Branham has started in all games this season and is tied for the most assists. Photo credit: John Domogma

It might seem intimidating to lead a team’s offense as a newcomer, especially playing a different position, but first-year guard Whitney Branham is making it look easy.

Branham played shooting guard in high school but made the transition to point guard for the ‘Cats this season.

She has been a nice surprise for the Wildcats and is succeeding the way the team hoped she would, said head coach Brian Fogel,

Branham has started all 18 games this season and is tied for the most assists on the team. She is also second in three-pointers and tied for second in points.

“She’s done a really nice job of growing and developing,” Fogel said, “I just think she gets better every time she takes the floor.”

Learning a new position presents new challenges.

Playing point guard is by the far is the hardest position to play, and it requires physical and mental toughness, Fogel said.

Branham is a quiet person and being vocal is one of the challenges she needs to overcome, she said.

“I’m always going to have more to learn and more things to improve on,” Branham said. ” But I’m really proud of myself for stepping up and finally getting the idea of being talkative.”

Another thing that she needs to get better at is reading the defense and creating more opportunities for her teammates, she said.

In addition to all the pressures, Branham is also stepping into the spot left by former Wildcat standout, Courtney Hamilton.

Hamilton graduated last spring, finishing second in all-time assists and sixth in the most blocked shots in Chico State’s history.

Branham has the potential to fill the shoes she left behind, Hamilton said.

“It’s a really big deal being a freshman and starting on a college team,” she said. “Point guard on the court really runs everything so (Branham) could definitely be great at that.”

Branham’s ability to take Hamilton’s place is not a concern, but the goal is for her reach her own full potential, Fogel said.

Branham’s work ethic is what stood out to Fogel while he was recruiting her, he said.

In her senior year at West Ranch High School in Santa Clarita, she averaged 27.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

After graduating high school, the community and philosophy of the Chico State team is what appealed to her when choosing what college to attend, Branham said

In a season where the ‘Cats find themselves with a losing record, the future success of the team will be largely dependent on the young players who are gaining experience. Branham is one of six first-year players on the team.

This core group of young players will grow together and develop a strong chemistry, Branham said.

“It’s always going to take time when you have new players come in,” she said, “It was definitely an adjustment and a learning curve we had to step up to.”

Despite their struggles this season, Branham and the Wildcats are headed in the right direction for the next couple of years.

Nick Martinez-Esquibel can be reached at [email protected] or @THENickMartinez on Twitter.

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First-year Wildcat seizes opportunity to lead