APU Women’s Basketball returns this year with their goals set high — what can we expect?

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, APU Women’s Basketball had a great season last year. They finished with a 12-5 record, making it to the Elite Eight tournament in Columbus, Ohio. As they prepare for the 2021-22 season, what can fans expect? 

There are 11 returning players on the team as well as two new recruits, freshmen shooting-guard Christiane Carlisle and forward Ariela Boboc. They are led by three captains: post-graduate shooting-guard Kayla Shaw, senior forward Laura Pranger and junior guard Alex Lowden.  

“We have some big goals like being undefeated at home, winning conference, winning regionals and hopefully winning nationals,” said Shaw.

2020-21 Season Recap:

The pandemic created some uncertainty for the 2020-21 women’s basketball season. The Cougars are the only team from the Pacwest Conference that resides in L.A. County, which delayed their season for months.

L.A. County had the highest number of COVID-19 cases from December through January of the 2020-21 school year, leading public health mandates to prohibit players to be within 6 feet of each other and requiring them to wear masks during entire practices, making training nearly impossible. Many of the players live out-of-state, and the restrictions didn’t allow them to practice until early-January. 

Preseason is an important part of building team chemistry. Pranger voiced that the hardest part of not being able to practice during this time was that the team always had to be game ready, despite not having practiced together. “Nothing was guaranteed,” says Pranger.

Head Coach T.J. Hardeman didn’t expect a pandemic to interfere with the season. However, he was grateful for the chance to play at all, unlike various other teams who were forced to call their season off. 

“I really tried to lean on my faith and said, ‘Lord, you have this in control, you have our lives in your hands. We trust you,’” he explains. “You can’t get upset about things that you can’t control.”

The team began last season with only a week’s worth of practice under their belt. They played their first exhibition game on Jan. 16 against Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif.. Although it ended as a loss, the Cougars were happy to be back. This kick-off game proved there was a lot of talent and potential for the season.

The Cougars’ regular season consisted of two back-to-back games that took place on Fridays and Saturdays. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the Pacwest Conference was separated into three pods: Hawai’i, Northern California and Southern California. APU was placed in the Southern California pod along with Biola, Concordia and Point Loma. Their regular season record finished at 10-4.

APU ranked fourth in the 2021 Regional Tournament that took place in Grand Junction, Colorado. The team pulled out a strong win against undefeated Hawai’i Pacific to advance to the second round. A positive COVID case on the first ranked team, Colorado School of Mines, sent APU straight to the championship game. There, they played number three, Westminster. In a tough, low scoring game, they secured the victory to send them to the Elite Eight tournament. 

APU fell short at the tournament. They lost in the first round to Lander University, with the final score being 88-76. Although they didn’t win, Hardeman was proud that his team made it that far. The Cougars came close to not making the playoffs at all, but their ability to meet and deal with adversity helped them pull together.

“It has given us experience that no other team had the opportunity to gain,” says Lowden. This isn’t the first time the team was faced with this challenge. In 2019, the Cougars lost in the first round of the Elite Eight tournament to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with a final score of 73-60. However, despite challenges, those on the team have also celebrated an array of victories, allowing them to grow closer than ever before.

Last year was awesome to be back-to-back [regional champions],” said Hardeman. “There’s just unexpected twists and turns to every story.”

What Does The 2021-22 Season Look Like?:

The Cougars return this year to their normal, 25-game season. The Pacwest Conference preseason poll placed the team as the number one pick. The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association ranked APU at number five in their national preseason poll

The women’s season kicked off on November 12th, and they’re starting off strong. The team secured two wins against California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and California State, San Bernardino, and they hope to keep their win streak alive as they move forward. The Cougars have a long road ahead of them as they embark on their first regular season since the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are optimistic. Ultimately, their goal is to make it back to the Elite Eight tournament. 

“We know what the prize looks like and we know we’re good enough to get it,” said Hardeman. 

You can view the APU women’s basketball schedule or livestream their games at athletics.apu.edu.