Graduating three high-impact seniors that resulted in a healthy postseason run in the WNIT last season was going to force the Toreros’ eighth-year head coach to revamp her thinking and chart a new path for success. After this year’s team’s first loss, a 19-point setback Nov. 17 in the second game of the season at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, it became a reality.
“When we lost there, everyone could have been waiting for our  seniors to walk out of the locker room. Where’s Domo [Dominique Connors]? Where’s Woody [Morgan Woodrow] and Izzy [Chilcott]? We had no identity,” Fisher said.
But then it clicked.
“All of a sudden, everyone picked it up a bit, a little here, a little there and before you know it, we’re playing as good of basketball as we’ve ever played it here,” she said. “It took a little bit to figure out who we were, who’d have the big roles, be the scorers and defenders, but they really figured it out and by Christmas this team really started to gel.”
And it hasn’t really stopped.
The Toreros (19-8 overall, 11-4 West Coast Conference) enter their 1 p.m. regular-season finale Saturday at Santa Clara needing a win and a Brigham Young University loss in one of two games this week (at LMU on Thursday, at Portland on Saturday) to clinch second place in the WCC and earn the coveted No. 2 spot in next week’s WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. BYU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against USD, but a No. 2 slot would give Toreros a bye through the tournament semifinals. They’ve already clinched at least a first-round bye and will play no earlier than the second round.
It’s good to be the Toreros, winners of four straight and eight of their last nine games. They went 5-1 in February. Saturday’s road game is the first of potentially many more in March.
“I think we’re hitting our peak at just the right time,” said Felicia Wijenberg, a redshirt junior forward. “This team has been growing all season, knowing what our roles are and we’re doing well as we head into the tournament. It’s exciting to think about what’s going to happen in the coming two weeks.”
Amy Kame (pictured, above right), one of USD’s key returners, has been a solid performer again. The junior leads the Toreros with a 16.1 points-per-game average, 4.5 rebounds, a team-high 70 steals and 107 assists. But Kame’s not the only contributor.
“I think a lot of people have stepped up into their roles as well as the younger players. Maya (Hood), Malina (Hood), Katelyn (McDaniel, pictured, top left) and Sophia (Ederaine),” Kame said. “It’s been a growing process, but it’s a been a great team effort.”
Two seniors, Klara Wischer and Julia Bennett, have played strong roles. Alyssa Barlow is another key component of Fisher’s strong junior class. It’s added up to a successful regular-season run with a lot of basketball still to play.
“On any given night it could be somebody stepping up or two, three or four players,” said Fisher while smiling. “It’s super balanced. It’s one of the best basketball teams I’ve had here. Not individual talent, but team talent. They just share the ball, they’ll have more assists than turnovers, we pass well, we play defense and rebound well. It’s just an amazing group of young women who’ve come together. This group just has a really good feel for the game.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of Brock Scott (scottphoto.net)