In 26 years coaching women’s basketball at College of the Canyons, Greg Herrick faced an unprecedented problem.
After the team’s first meeting last season, six of the 14 players quit on the spot.
“I told them it was going to be the hardest thing they’ve ever done and it was going to mean something — you know, all the things you say,” Herrick said. They said, ‘I don’t want to work that hard.’”
By the Cougars’ regular-season finale, they were rolling with just four players due to injuries. Their 11-15 record was the worst in Herrick’s tenure and it was just the third time the team missed the postseason in that span.
“It’s tough to manage a situation like that,” Herrick said. “There are no secrets when you only have five players to work with.”
Herrick has already had his preseason meeting with this year’s team. He went in with 11 players and 11 players still remain on the team through two games, which were both losses.
“I went out and started to recruit some of the kids myself,” Herrick said. “A lot of the players last year we didn’t recruit. They were walk-ons.
“ … You’ve got to have competition to bring out the best in people.”
One of the few returners is sophomore guard Dayna Tanaka, who led the team with 15.7 points per game last season and was named to the All-Western State Conference, South Division team. Their biggest loss is undoubtedly Marina Rojas, who had six triple-doubles and was also an All-WSC South Division honoree.
“Definitely more dedication this season,” Tanaka said. “ We all want to be here. We all want to play. And we’re going to play with each other.”
The Cougars opened with losses to Citrus and San Bernardino, with the loss to Citrus coming in overtime.
Hart alum Kalana Inemer rejoined the team this season and has averaged 16 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. Inemer initially joined COC in 2010, when the team went 24-8. She left the program to help raise her now-three children.
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“She was the fifth cog (in 2010) but now she’s the big cheese this season,” Herrick said. “There are some moves she’s made this season where I had to stop and ask, ‘Where did you learn that?’ I would love to take credit, but I don’t think she learned them from me.”
Herrick is also expecting major contributions from Saugus alum Maryrose Elias, who didn’t play in the team’s first two games.
“She’s still adjusting to the junior college game,” Herrick said. “We just want her to be patient because we think she’s going to be pretty good.”
Another name to watch will be former Canyon center, Shauna Van Grinsven, who Herrick recruited himself and immediately fell in love with her potential at 6-foot-2. She was buried on a loaded Canyon roster and averaged just 1.0 points and 1.6 rebounds last season with limited playing time.
“It took just three minutes when I watched her (at Canyon) and I knew we could work with her and develop her,” Herrick said. “There are still some bad habits we need to fix but we’re getting there.”
The Cougars had three weeks off prior to their opening two games, not giving Herrick the clearest of pictures of how he’d like to assemble his roster. That picture will become clearer as Herrick scheduled the team to play in five consecutive tournaments, starting with the Ventura College Tournament on Friday.
“Our schedule is brutal by design,” Herrick said. “Come January, when we start conference play, we’re going to have that competitive edge.”