Women’s basketball experience ups and downs in long season


From left to right: junior Madison Wong (All-CCAA and had 10.8 points a game), freshman Mikaila Wegenke (13.7 min. per game and 4.1 points per game), sophomore Vanessa Holland (28.6 min. per game and 7.1 points per game), sophomore Shay Stark (All-CCAA and 11.4 points per game), senior Natalie Valenzuela (last season and 10.5 points per game). Photo credit: Maury Montalvo

The Wildcats women’s basketball team’s season didn’t end the way that they planned on as they missed the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Tournament. It did, however, have a lot of excitement, ups and downs and entertaining games.

The team’s season didn’t start on the right foot as they lost their first three exhibition games to the University of San Francisco, San Jose State and Idaho State.

Vanessa Holland played in 25 games averaging 28.6 minutes a game. While averaging seven points, three rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Photo credit: Maury Montalvo

“When it comes to exhibition losses, we really just try to look at what we can improve on,” Natalie Valenzuela, 5th-year senior forward, said.

While any loss can bring some negativity, these games did not affect the team’s record or playoff standings and are good learning opportunities.

“We like to look at the positives and what we did well to see what we can carry over into the regular season and conference play,” McKena Barker,5th-year senior forward, said.

The Wildcats then went on to play in the CCAA PacWest Challenge in San Rafael and won both of their games.

“It’s a really good opportunity to see where we stand reasonably because the PacWest is another conference in the west region,” Barker said.

This year’s PacWest Challenge also happened to be the week of the Camp Fire.

“Everyone was affected emotionally since Chico is so close to the fire and as far as the basketball side of things goes we had to stay in the area when everyone else was gone,” Valenzuela said. “We practiced at a different facility.”

In the worst case scenario for any person, let alone student-athletes, these Wildcats persevered and remained as focused on winning games as they had been all season. Despite the hazardous living conditions and loss of life and home around them.

“We had to stay during that break in school because it is one of the most important parts of the season with it being right as conference play gets started,” Barker said.

From left to right: Mikaila Wegenke, senior McKena Barker (All-CCAA in her last year as a Wildcat), sophomore Brynn Thoming (averaged 10 minutes a night 2.4 points per game) and Vanessa Holland. Photo credit: Maury Montalvo

After the fire, the team played a good stretch winning five of their next six games, beating Holy Names University, San Francisco State, Cal State Stanislaus, Cal State East Bay and Humboldt State.

“The dynamic always feels good after a couple wins and we definitely feed off of each others’ energy, which feeds into our next practice and games,” Valenzuela said.

That part of their season is right when things start to matter most. Conference play is very important due to its effect on playoff seeding and ranking.

“The CCAA is really intense and anyone can beat anyone, so we try to pick up our practice intensity during conference play,” Barker said.

The latter end of the season was tough for the Wildcats as they lost eight straight games which ultimately cost them a playoff spot. When times get hard like that, the team often turns to their leaders, among other factors, to motivate them.

“We had a chance to make the playoffs till the very end which really helped us keep our heads up as a team and stay motivated,” Valenzuela said. “Our teammates also look to the seniors and coaches so we try to bring as much positivity to the situation as we can.”

Chico’s season eventually came down to two games that were against San Francisco State and Sonoma State.

“We went into that last practice as if we would any other,” Valenzuela said. “We weren’t thinking that it would be our last practice for the season so we just tried to enjoy our last home practice at Acker and used it as one more opportunity to get better.”

Madison Wong earned All-CCAA honors while clocking in 32 minutes a night and playing in 25 games. She averaged 10.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.9 steals a game. Photo credit: Maury Montalvo

The Wildcats, unfortunately, lost both of those games and didn’t secure the playoff spot that they wanted. At the end of the final game, which happened to be senior night, Valenzuela and Barker felt the support of the Chico community one more time as they left the court together to a standing ovation and an eruption of cheers.

“There’s nothing like the support we get at Acker and from the Chico community, our teammates, and our coaches and it is much appreciated,” Barker, after their final game, said.

The Wildcats ended up finishing the season with a 12-13 record and went 9-13 in conference play.

“Most of those games we lost down the stretch were really close and we felt that we were ‘in’ all of them so that motivated us knowing how close we were to some of those wins,” Barker said.

Shay Stark earned All-CCAA honors while averaging 31 minutes per game. She averaged 4.4 rebounds and 3 steals per night. Photo credit: Maury Montalvo

Junior Madison Wong and sophomore Shay Stark joined Barker with All-CCAA honors. While the loss of Barker and Valenzuela will be felt, another year of Wong and Shay have the Wildcats back on track for a comeback year next season.

Matthew Ferreira can be reached at [email protected] or @MattFerreira_ on Twitter.