For the first time in school history, UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball qualified for the NCAA Division III championship. This will be the only time a UCSC basketball team, men’s or women’s, have appeared in the tournament.
The Slugs earned an automatic NCAA tournament bid after defeating host and third-seeded Salem College 73-57 to win the Great South Athletic Conference (GSAC) tournament.
“This weekend was a whirlwind of emotions. We worked so hard and left it all out on the court, just like we planned,” said senior and tournament MVP Ashley Holmes. “We worked all season long for this opportunity. It’s going to be a knock-down drag-out battle no matter what.”
The Slugs were led by co-captain Holmes, who posted a career-high 33 points on Saturday against Finlandia University in the GSAC semi-final, after shooting a perfect 5-5 from the three-point line and 10-10 in free-throws. She finished with 18 points in the championship game against Salem.
“Ashley Holmes was simply amazing this weekend on both ends of the court,” said head coach Todd Kent.
UCSC was also supported by Michelle Poole, who recorded 19 points against Salem, her best performance as a Slug, while Tyler Stewart scored 13 off the bench in the GSAC final.
UCSC will take on 27-1 University of Texas-Tyler of the American Southwest Conference in the first round of the NCAA tournament. UT-Tyler is led by junior guard Michelle Obach, who is averaging 18.1 points through 28 games. UCSC and UT-Tyler will face off on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
“UT-Tyler is a very good team who present some match-up challenges for us,” Kent said. “They are definitely one of the most talented teams we have seen this year.”
Kent, Holmes and Torres Earn GSAC Honors
In his sixth year as head coach, Kent was named the 2015-16 GSAC Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year at the GSAC All-Conference awards banquet in Winston-Salem on Feb. 26.
“Coach Kent is by far the most knowledgeable coach in the GSAC,” said senior co-captain Trina Torres. “No one else compares. He scouts the other teams well, prepares us to win each game and instills the confidence and trust in each individual player to help us get the job done.”
In the past four seasons, Kent led the Slugs to four of the best records in school history, finishing 15-11 this past season and setting the school record for most wins in a season last year with 17. Before switching conferences this season, Kent was awarded the All-Independent Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2015.
Senior captains Torres and Ashley Holmes also received First Team All-Conference honors during the banquet. Holmes was selected after leading the Slugs in scoring with 9.3 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game. Holmes was also selected for the GSAC All-Sportsmanship Team for her display of integrity, character and sportsmanship displayed throughout the season.
“It’s an honor, there’s no other way to describe it,” Holmes said. “It makes me unbelievably proud to represent my team in that way. Then earning tournament MVP after the championship game, it was surreal.”
Torres joined Holmes on the First Team All-Conference after finishing the regular season averaging 8.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals over 26 games.
“Ashley and Trina did a great job this season leading our team both on the court and as team captains,” Kent said. “Earning the honor of all-conference shows the respect they earned by the other coaches in the league.”
13 Slugs Earn Academic Honors
Of the 27 athletes conference-wide who earned a spot on the 2015-16 GSAC Women’s Basketball All-Academic Team, 13 were Slugs.
“It nearly brought me to tears having nearly every member of our team called up to receive the award,” Kent said. “When most other teams in the conference only had two or three who earned the award, we had nearly everyone. It was simply a tremendous accomplishment that our university should be proud of.”
The academic team honors those who achieve over a 3.25 GPA throughout the season.
Holmes attributes this heavy representation to Kent’s support and dedication to academics. Last season, UCSC women’s basketball had six players honored in the Association of Division III Independents 2015 All-Academic Team.
“Coach has always cared about our well-being and our school work just as much as anything else,” Holmes said. “He wants us to succeed on and off the court. I know that my jump shot is not going to carry me very far after I graduate, but my degree, internships and part-time jobs will. It makes it easier that the team is there to support you and so are all the coaches.”