Women’s Basketball Team Wins Championship Despite Major Adversity

December 4th 2016. The Santa Monica College Corsair Womens Basketball team posing with thier trophy win against The Citrus College Owls in the 33rd annual Lady Charger Classic basketball tournament hosted by Cypress College in Cypress, Calif.. The Corsairs would win 74-69 earning them third place in the tournament. Photo by Daniel Bowyer.

On February 18, 2017, Santa Monica College women’s basketball won their first conference championship in nearly 10 years. For most collegiate athletic teams, this accomplishment might typically be the result of hard work, dedication, and skill; but for the SMC Corsairs, this win was the result of all of the aforementioned characteristics combined with the overcoming of major obstacles, and an intense desire to win the title. The team started the school year off with 23 players according to Lydia Strong, Head Coach of the SMC women’s basketball team. As the season progressed, their numbers dwindled down to just seven players, which devastated the team. “When things got really bad, you know, when we lost three players on the same day, there were a lot of tears and a lot of anger. Everybody was crying, including me because we thought it was over at that point. There were so many things against us and we all went out to dinner and we just sat down and said, ‘Ok, let's just talk about it, let's just get it out…we have to let it go, you know there’s no turning back from here because nobody is going to feel sorry for you, you got to play,’” said Strong. There were different reasons as to why many of the girls left the team. Balancing school work with being a student-athlete was one of the main factors for why some of the girls quit according to Coach Strong. “A couple of them [team members], you know, they quit because of that, they were like, ‘Hey, you know I'm trying to be a nursing major and it's too much.’ So, we lost a couple of players due to the academic nature of SMC…because it is difficult to manage,” said Strong.

With only seven team members left, the girls had to work extra hard to make up for the numbers they lacked said Coach Strong. This sentence sounds a little off “They're all playing the whole game; you know they're pretty much playing 40 minutes, which is exhausting… Everybody just stepped up to a different level because they had to, and they knew that they were going to be exhausted after every game. The next practice…we could barely move, we were so tired and beat up, and we just kept going, game after game. Nobody complained, nobody talked about the next opponent, how good they were. Most games, we walked in and the other teams would just look at us like, ‘Oh, you only have seven,’ and we just blew them out,” said Strong.

Playing every game with only seven players was extremely challenging according to Coach Strong, especially considering that many of the players were playing out of their actual positions to accommodate for their lack of numbers. “I would say…three of our players had to do all of the positions, like be a post and then know how to handle the ball,” said Katya Echavez, shooting guard for the SMC women’s basketball team.

Coach Strong also told The Corsair that the amount of work these ladies put in this year was incredible. “We started practicing August 26th, and we just stopped two weeks ago…and it's two and a half hours a day, plus a training class, that's an hour and 20, you know plus commuting, plus school, some of them work—and the amount of the physical toll that it takes on your body, is incredible. I mean, you know we got injuries, here, this and that. So, it's not just the time commitment, it's the body commitment, it's the mind commitment, no sleep. You can't eat because you know, you’re tired. There's a lot,” said Coach Strong.

Coach Strong said she tried to help motivate her team by talking to them and being there for them. She also said that the team helped to motivate each other to stick it out throughout the season. “They were really close, they still are. They had a commitment to each other, and—it sounds crazy, but they really wanted that championship. You know, we have banners in our gym, and they wanted to put something on there, they really wanted to leave a legacy, they wanted that championship more than anything.” Most of the girls on the team were in their second year at Santa Monica College, which made playing this season so much more important to them. “A lot of us are sophomores, so that kind of motivated us to keep on pushing ourselves because this is our last season, so we want to end it in the best way possible…because probably some of us are not going to play further. So, this would be like your last time playing…so, it’s just like, ‘Give it everything you have, because this could be your last game, especially during playoffs, like this could be our last game, just play everything you have, and after that, you can rest,’” said Echavez.

Despite the obstacles the team faced, they managed to make it through their season and through their conference games according to Strong and Echavez. During their last conference game, however, the team had to push through with only six players. “We go into the game against LA Pierce down a player, now we're down six because one kid sprained her ankle in the Canyon's game and we ended up winning the game by 60 points and finally we celebrated the championship. It was an amazing night. It's just a story of if it all goes bad, and it did for quite a while, you just keep going, and they did and it's just amazing, it's been an amazing year,” said Strong.

After their big championship win, Coach Strong plans on continuing the momentum into the next upcoming years. “I promised the team and myself—it's like, they've built something here, you've got to make sure you go out and get high-quality players, high caliber student athletes to keep this going, because there's no way I'm going to let them down for what they did here this year and this legacy they left…So, I will work as hard as I have to, getting players and working on the off-season plan, making sure that everything is tight for next year,” said Strong.