Everything Eagles: Year 1 A.D.: Women’s basketball looks to keep momentum going after White’s graduation

The Eagles look to build upon a quietly solid debut season in the PacWest, this time without last year’s superstar.

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Everything Eagles: Year 1 A.D.: Women’s basketball looks to keep momentum going after White’s graduation

Photo by Thecla Li / THE CHIMES

Photo by Thecla Li / THE CHIMES

Photo by Thecla Li / THE CHIMES

Photo by Thecla Li / THE CHIMES

Austin Green, Managing Editor

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This story was originally published in print on Nov. 15, 2018.

Head women’s basketball coach Alan Nakamura sits in his office, looking at a printout of his team’s roster. He scans the list of names, talking to me about veteran leaders and promising newcomers. Just as notable, though, is a name not on the list: guard DeMoria White.

As a senior last season, White led the team in scoring, assists and steals with 18.9 points, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game. To call her the first option is an understatement—she had 372 total shot attempts on the season, while none of her teammates got above 220 attempts. She averaged over 30 minutes per game in each of her three years under Nakamura, and graduated from Biola with the program record in career three-pointers made and sixth place on the Eagles’ all-time scoring leaderboard.

White was a major reason why her team’s transition to the NCAA and PacWest last year went much more smoothly than that of the men’s squad, as the Eagles finished with winning records both overall [14-12] and in conference [11-9].

Nakamura believes the team can have similar success in 2018-19, but not because he has a singular replacement for White in mind. Instead, it is the opposite—the challenge of what he refers to as “a fresh start”—that has Nakamura excited.

“STARTING OVER”

He believes he has a deep roster where everyone has the ability to score and contribute, regardless of her age.

“Our identity is going to be a little bit different this year. I think we’re going to be a really balanced team,” Nakamura said. “I see us having… a lot of contributions from players whether they’re seniors, juniors, sophomores [or] freshmen.”

That talent has already shown itself in flashes over the first week of the Eagles’ young season. Midnight Madness attendees got a firsthand look at their outside shooting prowess in a 30-19 drubbing of the men’s team during the annual three-point contest. One day earlier, junior forward Mikayla Greens set a new career high with 24 points in the Eagles’ loss to Cal State Dominguez Hills.

“Mikayla is really growing in confidence, and as a result is playing with a lot of energy,” Nakamura said. “The team really feeds off of her energy and her competitiveness.”

There have definitely been bumps along the way. The Eagles have lost both of their games so far, both non-conference contests against Cal State schools. Greens’ performance Saturday night kept her team in a game where she scored 18 of their 29 second-half points.

ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER

In order to keep pace in a competitive PacWest, the Eagles will need more from their veterans. Alongside Greens, junior guard Tatum Brimley and sophomore forward Jazz Benn are slated to get heavy minutes as returners to the starting lineup. Nakamura also singled out the leadership of senior forward Jessica Shill and redshirt junior Brenna Khaw, both of whom have gotten starting nods as well.

To add some more scoring pop in the backcourt, redshirt freshman wing Danita Estorga is now healthy and guard Jelissa Puckett, a transfer junior from Pasadena City College, has seen heavy minutes in the sixth woman role off the bench.

And keep an eye on freshman guard Abigail Laberge. The Canada native has seen limited playing time so far, but got a start against Cal State Los Angeles Friday as Nakamura uses the early part of the season to experiment with his rotations.

The Eagles were picked 6th in the conference’s preseason polls, but they went 4-0 last season against the schools picked directly ahead of them—nearby Concordia University Irvine and Point Loma Nazarene University, where Nakamura served as a longtime assistant before Biola hired him upon former women’s basketball head coach Bethany Miller’s promotion to athletic director.

Since he took the job in 2015, Nakamura has had a star to lean on in White. Now, he starts over with a more balanced team that lacks a clear star in the way White was. The Eagles’ ability to continue their rise this season will depend on the team’s—and their coach’s—ability to adapt.