It’d be hard not to appreciate the transparency of The Master’s University senior Bianca Cubello.
The 6-foot-1 women’s basketball forward said this week that she has one foot in the NAIA national tournament and one in the here and now.
Playing for a program ranked 14th in the NAIA and coming off four straight national tournament appearances, it’s easy to see why.
“We obviously want to get to the national tournament and the championship game,” Cubello said. “But feasibly, right now, our focus is on beating the big teams (in the Golden State Athletic Conference), like Westmont and Vanguard.”
If the Mustangs (3-0) needed a reason to stay grounded, it might be the preseason GSAC poll. TMU — even with a duo of two-time All-Americans returning in Cubello and senior guard Megan Lindsley — was picked to finish third behind the aforementioned Westmont Warriors of Santa Barbara and the Vanguard Lions of Costa Mesa.
The Mustangs finished second to Westmont last season before winning a first-round national tournament game for the first time in the four-year postseason run.
The likelihood of another playoff appearance is bettered by Cubello (13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last year), Lindsley (12.3 points) and senior forward Ashley Bartow.
Bartow, an all-around contributor last year after transferring in from NCAA Division 1 Drake University, gives the Mustangs athleticism and versatility in the post. She also — along with volleyball-player-turned-hoopster Aubrey Bekendam and Kelly Burns — helps salve the loss of 6-3 Chayan Lowery, who left the program after a productive sophomore season in 2015-16.
“We had to go in a different direction,” said TMU coach Dan Waldeck, specifying that the move was his decision.
Lowery’s absence will put more pressure on TMU’s guards to defend on the perimeter, but a group that Waldeck called his most physical in recent years should be up to the task.
“This is the first year where I am the weakest person on the team,” Lindsley said.
Hannah Ostrom, who has been starting at point guard, headlines that strong freshman corps.
Cubello said the 5-10 Ostrom is adept at attacking the basket, balancing the ability to look for her own shot and facilitating good looks for others.
“Once she gets comfortable, there’s no weakness that I see,” Cubello said.
Sophomore Jamilee Iddings (10.5 points per game this season) and freshmen Hannah Forrar (seven points per game) and Sabrina Thompson (5.5 points) provide depth on a team that’s been plagued by injuries early.
Five TMU players have been injured at one point or another, and key reserve Sydney Emory is out for the season due to an undisclosed injury.
Lindsley broke her nose last week and is dealing with a lower-body injury, but the Mustangs hope to have her back sooner than later.
“We haven’t gotten much continuity because of (the injuries),” Waldeck said.
The hope is that the Mustangs find their stride at the right time.
“I think we’ll definitely be one of those teams that will be its best at the end of the season,” Waldeck said.