By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Saturday’s loss in the NAIA Division 1 women’s basketball quarterfinals did little to rattle Anika Neuman’s perspective.
“We’ve accomplished some great wins this season, but what I’ll remember is this group of girls,” said The Master’s University sophomore. “There is no one else I’d choose to go into battle with. Our team is so special. We have something so rare that unites us, and that’s our love for Jesus. Although our goal was to win that banner, we walk away knowing our identity is much greater than that.”
Neuman scored a game-high 16 points, but the Mustangs were unable to hold on to a 12-point second half lead, falling to top seed Montana Western, 60-55, in Billings, Montana.
The loss brought to a close one of the most impressive seasons in program history. Master’s (28-7) matched its record for wins and reached the NAIA quarterfinals for the second time ever.
The team also won its first-ever Golden State Athletic Conference regular season title.
“This group got so much better as the year went on,” said TMU coach Dan Waldeck, who recently finished as one of six finalists for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NAIA Coach of the Year. “They grew up a ton, battled through injuries and maintained a dynamic identity through the year.”
Next season, the Mustangs are set to return Neuman, 6-foot-6 freshman center Stephanie Soares (already a WBCA NAIA All-American), and eight other players from a talented roster that includes Valencia High grad Sabrina Thompson.
Thompson scored 12 points in Saturday’s game.
Men’s basketball heads to nationals
The No. 2 seeded Mustangs left for Kansas City, Missouri, on Monday to compete in the NAIA Division 1 national tournament.
Master’s has gone 27-5 up to this point, winning its second straight GSAC regular season title and third straight conference tournament crown.
The Mustangs will open against the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. PST. The Drovers (20-10) received votes in the most recent NAIA D1 top 25 and finished third in the tough Sooner Athletic Conference.
Every game of the NAIA tournament will be broadcast, with all but the championship game
streaming live at NAIA.org. Single game passes are $9.95.
The championship game on March 26 will be on ESPN3.
Baseball continues to bash
Valencia High graduate Anthony Lepre hit three home runs during a four game series against Hope International last week.
Lepre, a transfer from NCAA Division 1 UC Riverside, drove in seven runs, helping the Mustangs take three of four from a conference opponent that was ranked or receiving votes for the second straight week. Hope was receiving votes.
As of Monday, Lepre and teammate Aaron Shackelford co-led the NAIA in home runs with 14 each.
In Saturday’s first game, Lepre went 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs. He nearly hit two more over the fence, one that hooked foul and another that was caught deep in dead center field.
The Foothill League contributions don’t end there.
Saugus grad Roy Verdejo is third on the club with 23 RBIs. And on the mound, Saugus grad Robert Winslow has allowed one run in his last 17 innings. He’s struck out 21 batters over that span and now stands at 5-1 on the year with a 2.16 ERA.
Canyon grad qualifies for nationals
The Mustangs recorded 17 lifetime bests at the Ross and Sharon Irwin Collegiate Scoring Meet in San Diego on Saturday.
The highlight of the day, though, came from Canyon High grad Seanna Nalbandyan, who qualified for NAIA nationals in the 400-meter hurdles.
Her time was 1 minute, 2.6 seconds.
Last season, Nalbandyan earned NAIA All-American honors in the 400 hurdles, and she emphasized Saturday how important it was for her to return to the big stage.
“It was very important to me to get back to nationals this year because if God has honored me with the gift of running, I want to be able to honor Him back by using that gift as best as I can,” she said, “and that’s at nationals.”
For more information on The Master’s University Athletic Department, visit GoMustangs.com or follow us on Instagram and Twitter: @TMUAthletics.