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The Westmont women’s basketball team had a tough road to winning the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Tournament for the fourth year in a row. Seeded second in the tournament, the number ten ranked Warriors had a bye in the first-round. Their semi-final match-up would be against #21 Arizona Christian University Firestorm, who has the leading scorer in the NAIA, Courtney Christmas.
First quarter action featured both schools scoring left and right, but the Firestorm had the edge, as they went up 21-16 at the end of the quarter. Early on in the second quarter, Westmont found itself down by ten, but the Warriors continued to chip away at the deficit thanks to points in the paint by Iyree Jarrett, Stefanie Berberabe, and Kaitlin Larson. A three from Lauren Tsuneishi pushed the Warriors ahead of the Firestorm. However, the Firestorm ended the half on a 6-0 run, leading the Warriors 36-31.
As the third quarter got underway, Westmont continued to throw different looks at ACU defensively, leading to some turnovers. Another three by Tsuneishi put the Warriors up by one again, but the Firestorm again took back the lead. However, the scrappy Warriors ended the third quarter on a 5-0 run, completed by a Jarrett layup, to tie the game at 55 apiece. A slow start by Westmont led ACU to take an eight-point lead with four-and-a-half minutes to play, but Larson knocked down a three-pointer that turned the momentum in the Warriors’ favor. Later, Tsuneishi nailed two straight threes, giving Westmont a three-point lead. Westmont stood victorious 79-74 after a 15-2 run completed the comeback and the Warriors punched their ticket into the championship game. Jarrett finished with 21 points and Larson had 17 points and grabbed 7 boards.
Westmont would then face off against the GSAC regular season champion #5 The Master’s University Mustangs, a team the Warriors split their meetings with during the regular season. The Mustangs would prove to be an offensive and defensive threat, as they had 6’ 6” GSAC MVP Stephanie Soares, leader in blocks and rebounds.
It was a defensive battle in the first quarter, as both sides struggled to score, but The Master’s was able to go into the second quarter with a one-point lead. Collectively, Westmont found the hot hand as the whole squad contributed to outscoring The Master’s 20-9 in the second quarter, leading to a 31-21 Westmont lead at halftime.
Maud Ranger started off the third quarter with a three, but this quarter featured similar play as the first quarter did, as both sides went scoreless for multiple minutes. Still, the Warriors maintained a ten-point lead after three quarters of play, 38-28. Tsuneishi hit a three to start off a much more offensive quarter for both schools. Down the stretch, whenever the Mustangs scored, Larson, Jarrett, or Berberabe would score right back, preventing any momentum swing. Two free-throws from Tsuneishi finished off the Mustangs, as the Warriors once again reigned as GSAC Tournament champions, winning the game 60-50. A key factor for the Warriors’ victory was the second quarter, as well as 18 points and 8 rebounds from Larson and Ranger’s nine points.
The women’s basketball team begins its quest for a second NAIA National Championship on Mar. 13 in Billings, Montana.