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Faulkner: Trio makes VU title threat

Colleges

January 08, 2014|By Barry Faulkner
  • Nicole Ballestero is a key scorer for Vanguard University, ranked No. 1 in the NAIA.
Nicole Ballestero is a key scorer for Vanguard University,… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

Good things usually come in threes for the Vanguard University women's basketball team, but that typically refers to the propensity and proficiency with which Coach Russ Davis' Lions hoist three-point attempts from beyond the arc.

This season, however, the thrice-as-nice sentiment might better refer to the Lions' talented three-player nucleus that includes NAIA first-team All-American Nicole Ballestero.

Ballestero, a 5-foot-8 senior guard, is fourth in the NAIA in scoring (22.9 per game) for the top-ranked Lions (11-0), who have been trouncing opponents by an average of more than 31 points per contest.

Sophomore Sammy Doucette, a 5-11 guard-forward, is having a breakout season, averaging 18 points per contest, while senior point guard Taylor Belmont, second in the NAIA in assists (7.4 per game) is also contributing 12.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per outing.

The threesome has started all 11 games for the Lions, who open Golden State Athletic Conference play on Tuesday at San Diego Christian at 5:30 p.m.

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Not only are Ballestero, Doucette and Belmont producing nearly 63% of the Lions' points this season, the trio's combined average of 53.1 per game is nearly matching the average total of Vanguard's opponents (53.8).

Four other players have shared the other two starting spots, but much of that has had to do with injuries to junior Melissa Norman, a 6-2 transfer from Nebraska-Kearney, and junior guard Ashleigh Anderson, a transfer from Clackamas Community College in Oregon, by way of Oregon City, Ore., from which Davis has culled a handful of top players over the years, including Belmont.

Both Norman and Anderson have recently returned to the starting lineup and figure to provide strong support to a team attempting to claim the program's first GSAC regular-season crown since 2010, but the 11th conference title in Davis' 18 seasons at the helm.

A challenge is expected from No. 8-ranked Westmont (8-4), the defending NAIA and GSAC champion which lost two-time NAIA and GSAC Player of the Year Tugce Canitez, a 6-2 center, to graduation. Helping lessen the loss of Canitez has been the play of 6-1 senior Kelsie Sampson. Sampson, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on her way to All-GSAC recognition as a junior, is contributing 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season.

The Master's College (11-3), is ranked No. 12 nationally, while Hope International (11-3) and San Diego Christian (8-4) have also received votes in the Top-25 poll.

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