Women’s basketball feels ready for new challenges this season

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Robert Huskey

The LA Golden Eagles’ bench celebrates.

Braylin Collins, Sports Editor

After a canceled season in 2020 and battling through a pandemic that caused the team to miss crucial time on the court and participate in other team-oriented events, the Golden Eagles women’s basketball team is excited about what this season will bring. 

The women’s basketball team is currently 2-2 on the season, starting the year strong with impressive wins over Concordia and Biola University while averaging 75 points a game. More recently, the team is looking to move forward after back-to-back tough losses, one being a close overtime defeat against Division I opponent UC Riverside.

Although the team is heading into conference play in what may look like a losing slump, Head Coach Torino Johnson is confident that the team is ready.

The Lady Eagles were projected to finish second overall in the CCAA Coaches Poll before the start of the season. 

“The potential is dangerous,” Johnson said as he explained how good he felt this team could be. 

In the preseason, the Golden Eagles faced USC, the University of Arizona, and Pepperdine University in exhibition games.

Johnson focused more on how the team competed in these exhibition matchups than the results. He knows that could prove to be more beneficial throughout the course of a season.

“We are battle-tested. Having the opportunity to face some of the highest level of competition around, we now can set ourselves up for success when it matters,” he said. 

As the program continues to be built on the vision Johnson has in mind; he feels that this team will be a huge step forward for the culture of women’s basketball at Cal State LA. He believes the program has done well to bring in competitors on and off the court, along with having the right mindset and a good head on their shoulders. 

A player in the program that is helping shift the culture is freshman center Silivia Fonongaloa. Her outgoing personality and energy were on full display in her performance at Midnight Madness in October, where she sang “No One” by Alicia Keys for the entire gym during the talent show.

She is learning how to take that same energy onto the court. 

“I always used to feel like I played robotically,” Fonongaloa said. “But with Coach Johnson, he is always telling us to just play ball. To not focus on the mistakes, but focus on growing from them.”

She believes that advice goes beyond basketball and applies to daily life. 

In the team’s four games this season, Fonongaloa has shot 47% on 17 attempts and is averaging three rebounds and four points a game. She hopes to continue to build on that throughout the rest of the year.

“Learning discipline on and off the court, pushing myself to be the best player and person I can be every day is my goal this season,” she said. 

Getting the best out of his players is one thing that Johnson takes pride in. His approach to doing so is leaning on fundamentals and making the game easier for everyone.

“We don’t need 30 dribbles for you to get to your ‘go-to’ move. Use it right away, read and react. That way it becomes more about the team and getting better together,” he said. 

Team chemistry is not something that you can force as a coach or a leader. However, for the Lady Golden Eagles, that is an issue that they haven’t had to worry about. This team has already built strong relationships prior to the season with group activities, including a community service opportunity with Giving Children Hope–where the team and coaching staff helped prepare and provide healthy food options for over 300 families. 

“What we have is special because it’s organic. You can see that we all love each other. Even as competitors, on days where we don’t always get along, we are able to have positive confrontation and grow from those moments,” he said. 

Returning after a shortened season where the Golden Eagles ended the year winning eight of their last 11 games, the team is looking to keep the momentum and positivity going this year as they start conference play. They will face Chico State and Stanislaus State this week, two teams they defeated last season.