Sports psychologist Jeff Troesch wouldn’t want the Cal Poly women’s basketball team to look at things this way, but if there ever was a season the Mustangs were to make their first trip to The Big Dance, THIS is it.
I’m predicting this will be the year.
The Big West Conference leaders are in their final season with senior forward Kristina Santiago, a two-time conference player of the year who’s playing her best despite missing all of last season with a torn ACL.
Santiago will be the program’s all-time leading scorer. Her arrival coincides with Cal Poly’s rise from the middle of the pack in the Big West to its acenscion as a perennial title contender, with correllation implying causality in this case.
The Mustangs had never had a player capable of shooting for the WNBA before. I’m no expert on the world of women’s basketball scouting, but Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh has projected Santiago as the Mustangs’ first player destined for the U.S. league.
Since Santiago came to San Luis Obispo from Righetti High in Santa Maria, Cal Poly has been a victory away from making the NCAA Tournament twice in the past four years. The Mustangs have been Big West Tournament contenders in each of the other two years they didn’t make it to the final.
But every season, it seemed like the timing wasn’t quite right.
Santiago hadn’t quite developed into the dominant player she has become way back in her freshman year. As a sophomore, Cal Poly made a surprising run to the Big West final, but the Mustangs’ inexperience caught up with them in that game. As a junior, the team was upset in the semis.
Last season, with Santiago nursing the knee injury, Rachel Clancy willed the team to the finals without her. Cal Poly again fell short.
But quite frankly, it was almost poetic how former longtime UC Davis coach Sandy Simpson ended his coaching career by taking the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament then retired into the sunset. And it would have been an Shakespearian cruelty had Cal Poly made it instead while the player that ushered the Mustangs into relevancy sat on the sidelines, helpless to play.
So, this is it.
Though Santiago’s knee tear in last season’s opener was a tough break at the time, Cal Poly is really fortunate that it has gotten to keep her this long.
The Mustangs haven’t always been the favorite to win the Big West Tournament. They haven’t always had the most experienced team. This year, they’re both.
Cal Poly crushed second-place Cal State Northridge with Santiago dominating in a duel with the Matadors’ Jasmine Erving, who she effectively shut down with stout defense. The Mustangs play their first-round Big West Tournament game Tuesday night at Mott Gym.
There are no excuses, and there is no more time. Santiago is this year’s Simpson.
- Kristina Santiago injury scare was brief but intense
- On the road again: Cal Poly women’s basketball struggles away from home
- Cal Poly women’s basketball coach Faith Mimnaugh hoping for contract extension
- DiLoreto gets a second chance in Utah
- Scrogcast: NCAA bracket gambling, Asa Jackson and the Donahue play