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Women's Basketball Preview: Lions primed for title run

Vanguard, led by All-American and NAIA Player of the Year candidate Ballestero, open in No. 1 spot.

November 06, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • Vanguard University senior Nicole Ballestero earned first-team All-American recognition as a junior, when she averaged 21.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, led the team with 42 steals and was second with 58 three-pointers.
Vanguard University senior Nicole Ballestero earned… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

When it comes to women's basketball on the NAIA Division I level, what happens in Southern California seldom stays there, but rather eventually winds up having a major impact on the national tournament in Frankfort, Ky.

With this in mind, Vanguard University Coach Russ Davis, enters his 18th season more interested in the Lions' place in the Golden State Athletic Conference than their spot atop the NAIA preseason poll.

"The way It is now, we want to play for a GSAC championship, because if you win the GSAC, you can win a national title," said Davis, who by guiding the Lions to the NAIA crown in 2008, began a run of three separate GSAC representatives winning NAIA titles in the previous six seasons."

GSAC member Westmont last season joined Azusa Pacific (2012) as NAIA champions from the SoCal conference in which Vanguard has wound up on top 10 of the last 16 seasons.

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The Lions defeated Westmont in last year's GSAC Tournament final, before going on to reach the quarterfinals of the NAIA Tournament in their 12th consecutive trip to the national event.

A run to the NAIA quarterfinals would clearly be a disappointment for this year's squad, which is led by perhaps the best player in the nation.

"I think she's the front-runner, right now, to be the National Player of the Year," Davis said of senior guard Nicole Ballestero, who earned first-team All-American recognition as a junior, when the University of San Diego transfer averaged 21.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, led the team with 42 steals and was second with 58 three-pointers. "But it's a long season."

Ballestero, who played primarily point guard last year, but will be utilized mainly at shooting guard this season, averaged 22.3 points in a four-game preseason exhibition tour that included losses at UCLA, Cal and Stanford, as well as a victory at UC Santa Barbara.

"I made the move because [Ballestero] is one of the best offensive players in the nation, so I want to get her more shots," Davis said.

Ballestero is the lone returning starter from a team that finished 25-4 and lost twice to Westmont, ranked No. 3 this season after its 30-4 campaign in 2012-13.

Senior Taylor Belmont will start at point guard. She had nine assists and two turnovers against UCLA and, Davis believes, is playing with enough confidence to contribute in the scoring department as well.

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