The Long Beach State women’s basketball team started 12-1 last season and looked headed for a special year. Then a series of injuries derailed their progress, and the team ended up losing eight games in a row, ultimately falling in their first game in the Big West Tournament to Cal Poly.
This year’s Beach team is healthy, restocked with some new transfer talent, and looks to have that feel of a special campaign back.
“That’s our expectation and that’s our feeling,” said Beach coach Jeff Cammon, now in his fifth season. “It feels like with everything we have coming back and our additions, it seems like it’s all built to this point. If we stay healthy I think we have the depth and experience and talent to have a special year.”
The Beach were picked to finish second in the conference by the Big West media, with UC Davis picked to finish first.
The team will be led by returning junior guard Justina King, who was one of the six players in the conference selected to the Preseason All-Big West team. King was first-team All-Big West and first-team All-Big West Defensive Team last year, starting in every game and leading the team in scoring and assists.
“I’m excited for this year,” said King. “I feel like with the players we’ve added we have the most complete team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Most importantly, the Beach have added some offensive firepower. The team was one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers last year, and with King anchoring the defense they’ll continue to hang their hat on that end of the court this year. But King and Cammon both said that some of the team’s newcomers, especially transfer Maddi Utti, should make it easier to create and score the ball.
Utti, a Fresno State transfer, was All-Mountain West last year and was a 12-points per game scorer for the Bulldogs.
“Her competitiveness in practice has made us better,” said Cammon. “She doesn’t want to lose at anything–not one conditioning drill or anything. And she will be vocal about it if she loses. We needed that.”
In addition to King and Utti, the Beach will feature Jasmine Hardy and Ma’Qhi Berry, talented players who’ve been in Cammon’s system for several years. Center Myrrah Joseph was on the floor during the Beach’s win streak last year and the team went 1-8 while she was injured, and her health will be a major key for the Beach this year.
Other major contributors are Lauren Green, Kianna Hamilton-Fisher, and Patricia Chung.
Cammon deserves some credit for figuring out how to navigate the transfer portal as a mid-major coach. While the Beach have had some players poached by Power-5 conferences, they’ve also pulled in talent from those schools and been able to quickly address roster deficiencies by scouting the portal well.
“As people we automatically go to the negative, but we try to look at the positive with it,” he said. “We might lose a player, but if we can keep our core intact and go add something we’re missing, it helps. It’s different, but this world moves quickly and you have to adapt with it.”
The Beach will open their home schedule Nov. 18 against Seattle and Nov. 21 against Santa Clara. The nonleague schedule includes a road-game at perennial power Oregon and a home game against USC on Dec. 21. Conference play begins Dec. 30 against Cal Poly.