Coming off the first two NCAA tournament appearances in school history, UC Santa Cruz won't be taking it easy in 2017-18.
This season, the Slugs will continue to challenge themselves. One of the toughest schedules in school history awaits as UCSC plays five schools who also made the NCAA Tournament.
That includes a "Mammoth" task against the defending national champions when the Slugs take on Amherst College in Las Vegas as part of the d3hoops.com Classic.
"We have always had high expectations for our team's performance both in the classroom and on the court," said head coach Todd Kent. "We built the schedule much in the same way as in the past: we go out and try to find games with as many D3 teams as possible. This season I definitely wanted to challenge ourselves, so I reached out to many of the teams who we will compete against."
The Banana Slugs travel to George Fox December 9. Two more tournament teams come to Santa Cruz for the December Classic. UCSC faces Wartburg on Tuesday Dec. 19. Then Catholic - the Landmark Conference regular-season champions - will play UCSC on Wednesday the 20th before the game in Vegas against Amherst.
The Banana Slugs open the New Year with a trip to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the SCIAC Tournament Champions who won a first round game at UT-Dallas. It also starts a January where the Banana Slugs don't have any home games.
"As a program we now feel we should be competing on a national level every year and this season is no different," said Kent. "There is a lot that goes into making the NCAA tournament, some you control and others you can't. We will do all that we can to perfect the things we can control while adjusting to the things that we can not."
If the Slugs are going to make it back to the postseason, they will have some big shoes to fill. Gone are guard Jasmin Dimson, rebounding machine Michelle Poole, and Tyler Stewart, just the fourth woman in program history with 100 three-pointers made. Those three were a big part of the team that set school records with 27.6 three point attempts a game and 8.0 threes made per game. The Slugs went 13-36 from long-range in the tournament game at Puget Sound, the second-highest number made in a Division III postseason contest.
The returning starters are junior Jenna Sparks (7.6 points, 6.1 rebounds) and guard Katie Young (9.4 points, 1.1 assists). Other returners pushing for playing time are guard CJ Catina (4.1 points, 1.9 assists/game), Kim Tom (6.0 points, 1.2 asst), Alaina Alvarez (1.3 points, 0.8 rebounds), Suhansi Perera (1.4 points, 1.3 rebs) and Katherine Mauldin (1.8 points, 2.0 rebounds with 3 starts last season).
The four new players on the squad are:
Junior Katilin Stephenson comes to UCSC from Antelope Valley Community College, where she averaged 10.7 pig and 9 rebounds. Junior Transfer Jocelin Petatan transferred in from Santa Barbara City College and averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds per game at the small forward position. Walk-on Brianne Ulloa brings sold depth at the PG position. The lone freshman Bailey Zazueta comes from Martin Luther HS in Greendale Wisconsin where she was a starter on the state Runners-up.
"We are excited to get started October 15th and have high expectations for the season," said Kent. "We graduated several key players from last years team but our younger players now have the opportunity to step up and make their mark on our program."