The Umpqua Community College women’s basketball team never lost a game this season in the Northwest Athletic Conference, finishing 29-0.
“Nobody could beat us. The coronavirus did something 29 other opponents couldn’t do — it kept us from winning a game,” Umpqua coach Dave Stricklin said.
The top-ranked Riverhawks saw their season come to an unfortunate end after the NWAC Tournament was canceled late Thursday morning at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany due to health concerns. Umpqua, which needed four wins to capture its first NWAC title since 2000, was scheduled to meet Everett at 2 p.m. in a first-round game.
“It’s just sad. I wish we had at least one more game together,” UCC sophomore guard Cielo Gonzalez said. “I’m happy with what we accomplished ... the sophomores grew as players, individuals and as a team, and I’m grateful for the experience we had.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. We were history in the making and even though it got cut short, I’m thankful for the time we had together. It doesn’t have to be defined by a trophy; we were 29-0 and that’s hard to do.”
The 2019-20 team was Stricklin’s first unbeaten squad in his 33 years as a head coach, 25 at Umpqua and eight at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California. The Riverhawks were 16-0 in South Region play and have won or shared six of the last seven league crowns.
“This is a little bit different situation, and I don’t know exactly how we’re supposed to react or feel,” Stricklin said. “Last year was bad the way it ended (the Riverhawks lost 74-70 to Wenatchee Valley in the NWAC title game). For me that was devastating — we were right there and had a chance to win it with my dad (Richard) on the bench and Taylor (Stricklin, his daughter) on the court.
“We had a feeling we were going to get it done this year. I thought our girls were ready to play today and figured we’d play extremely well. But all of a sudden, you don’t get to play and have no closure. It’s a strange day.”
The Riverhawks were an experienced, deep team with 10 sophomores. Darian Mitchell, a former Douglas High School standout, and Kim Ortiz were both in their third year with the program after redshirting.
The other sophomores were Gonzalez, Lainey Rincon, Hunter Boske, Brooklyn Gilbert, Grace Campbell, Sienna Riggle, Desiree Maddern and Jalisa Simons. Rincon is out of Douglas High.
“This group took a very business-like approach all year,” Stricklin said. “Nobody got too excited when we won big games or when adversity hit, they just kept moving forward.
“It might be the best team, but not the best talent we’ve ever had. The sum has been greater than the individual parts, that’s what made it so special.”
Mitchell, Campbell (who suffered a torn ACL in the last regular season game) and Gonzalez each were selected to the All-South Region first team. Campbell was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
“Everybody wanted it so much. That’s what made us successful,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t have to prove it to anybody (that we were the best team in the NWAC), we proved it to ourselves. No matter what, we made ourselves proud, Dave proud and the community proud. The experience is what’s memorable.”
The sophomore class finished with a record of 57-5 over two seasons.
“Sometimes the real reward in athletics isn’t necessarily what you get, but what you become in the process,” Stricklin said. “For this team, that process started a long time ago and it (success) didn’t happen by accident.”