After going 15-13 in the regular season, the women’s team made it to the PacWest Tournament in Irvine, Calif. The Cougars got past Notre Dame de Namur in the first round, but lost a heart-breaker against rival California Baptist in the semifinals, losing 86-85.
Junior guard Tara Casey led the team with 20 points against Cal Baptist, while sophomore forward Samantha Huddleston had recorded her second double-double of the season, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cougars shot a season best 52.9 percent on three-pointers (9-for-17), and in both PacWest games, APU placed six players in double figures.
Head coach T.J. Hardeman noted how well the team played.
“Our goal was to play our best at the end of the year. We feel that we were playing our best right now,” Hardeman said. “Things were going well, just down the stretch we didn’t get it done offensively. Their defense did a good job.”
Freshmen guard Zoe March helped the Cougars effort with 11 points. She noted how hard the team was playing, especially in the final quarter.
“You think in your head that you’ve worked this hard this whole game and you don’t want to give it up anymore, you want to go harder,” March said.
The Cougar’s effort came up just short, as Cal Baptist rallied from a nine point deficit to win the game. Cal Baptist was ranked as the third best Division-II team in the country, and they would go on to win their first ever PacWest Championship against Point Loma.
Junior Abigail Goodsell noted that even though the team lost, she was proud of the way they played.
“These are my favorite games, when they’re close. We’re fighting back and forth, getting baskets and taking them away. It’s fun and I’m excited for next year,” Goodsell said.
Goodsell, a transfer from Sacramento State, was one of the many first-time players for APU this year. All of the starting five were either transfers or freshmen.
“We were all new, but we’ve played a full season. This season was all about growth for us,” Goodsell said. “We set goals to make it to the tournament and win the championship and though we were just a basket short of that, we’re all coming back next year. We’re all planning on working individually and as a team during the summer.”
Goodsell said this all with a smile in a press conference immediately following the game. Handling the loss well, Coach Hardeman and his players are already looking forward to next season.
“I hate to lose, but it’s just exciting to know that we have everybody back. Last year we lost everybody. It’s gonna be fun to put to use what we learned and learn new stuff,” Hardeman said.
The men’s basketball team also suffered a close loss in the PacWest Tournament, losing to Chaminade in the first round, 65-69. They almost managed a comeback down 67-56 with less than five minutes left in the game, putting together a 9-0 rally to bring the score within two. With 31 seconds left in regulation, Chaminade player Sam Daly hit a shot to seal his team’s win.
Men’s head coach Justin Leslie expressed how well the team played in the first half, but struggled in the second.
“I thought we played a fantastic first half,” Leslie said. “It was great, up until the last minute and a half when they were able to get two three’s. They carried that momentum over into the second half. We couldn’t get a rhythm offensively. We turned it on late, we gave ourselves a chance, but they got a tough shot and Daly hit it.”
Leslie and his players spoke with disappointment as the Cougars’ season finished earlier than it had in the past four years.
“The reality is that winning is really hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It comes down to being consistent in practice and in the start of the game until the end of the game,” Leslie said.
The team finished with a record of 16-15. They captured the fifth seed to make it to the PacWest Tournament.
“I just think it’s honestly a testament to APU basketball that when you get the fifth seed in the conference and win 16 games, everybody thinks the sky is falling. I think there’s a lot of teams that would like to have a season that bad,” Leslie said.
Leslie said that this game and this season would help teach his team.
“This team is a young group and has had to deal with maturing and accepting responsibility,” Leslie said. “At the end of the day, what they learn from this difficult season, we’re going to be better as a result. We will learn from this. Our program will rebound.”
Junior forward Corey Langerveld was not shy about the way he and the team played.
“I think the history of APU is very successful. I feel like we disrespected APU’s tradition. We need to learn from it and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Langerveld said.
Junior forward and teammate Petar Kutlesic agreed with Langerveld and is looking forward to having a better campaign next season.
“We’re definitely young and we’re looking forward to working this summer,” Kutlesic said. “We’ll bring APU their glory next year.”