SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For the fifth consecutive season under Bronco head coach Jennifer Mountain, the Santa Clara women's basketball team improved its win total. The Broncos won 14 games in 2012-13, including six in the West Coast Conference, matching its WCC total from 2010-11. Santa Clara also took on two teams that would play in the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos beat Fresno State 58-53 and fell to powerhouse No. 4 Stanford who advanced to the Sweet 16 after five straight Final Four appearances.
"I was very pleased with this season, especially with our start," said Mountain. "I think our program has come a long way in the last five years. I really felt like our preseason did a good job preparing us for our conference. I was pleased with our progress. Certaintly we would like to have more wins, but everybody grows in different ways and we learned from the ups and downs. We have a really good taste in our mouths going in to the spring with little bit of a chip on our shoulder knowing that we were so close to the post season. I was very proud of our team's efforts and how far we've come."
Beginning with a buzzer-beater by Ashley Armstrong at Long Beach State, the Broncos went an impressive 9-2 over an 11-game span. The stretch also included a 3-1 start in the WCC, with the only loss coming at Gonzaga, the eventual conference champions.
On February 4 Santa Clara was dealt a huge blow when senior Lindsay Leo went down with a season-ending injury. She was leading the Broncos in rebounding at 7.1 rebounds per game and scored 9.7 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting from the field while also leading Santa Clara in free throw shooting with a 81.5 percent mark. She also led the team with 43 blocks, 2.2 per game, and placed No. 5 on the single-season blocks list. She finished her career with 113 blocks, good for second all-time at Santa Clara.
"Losing Lindsay at the time that we did obviously hurt us, but I was very proud of our effort," said Mountain. "We had to change some things in a short period of time with what we were doing and how we were playing. Losing a player, you always end up with a situation that is a little bit challenging."
Despite only playing in 20 games, Leo was so respected by the WCC coaches that she was named First-Team All-WCC.
Despite the loss of Leo, there were many bright spots on the season for Santa Clara, none more than sophomore Raquel Avila. Avila went from appearing in five games and playing just 13 minutes as a walk-on freshman, to starting the team's last 23 games and playing 688 minutes. Avila averaged 4.4 ppg and 2.9 rpg from the point. She had a team-best 89 assists, good for 3.1 per game and collected 1.4 steals per game.
"I would say the biggest and best surprise was Rockie [Avila]," said Mountain. "She hardly played as a freshman and I know the work that she put in last spring and summer to get to where she is now. To get into that role of a starting point guard throughout that is pretty amazing. She has done a great job and I don't think we would've had the success that we have had without her. People have to play us differently because Rockie is in the game. Now she has a great chance to improve and even get better, which is something to look forward to."
Meagan Fulps, a 2012-13 All-WCC Honorable Mention selection, led Santa Clara with 11.2 ppg on 34.3 percent shooting and 33.7 percent from beyond the arc. Fulps added 3.2 rpg while dishing out 2.0 apg and making 1.6 spg. Fulps became the 21st Bronco to eclipse the 1,000-point mark. She moved into 10th place all-time with the first basket of the game at Portland on Jan. 3. She finished her career with 1,297 career points, good for seventh place.
Fulps was invited to play on the NetScouts Basketball All-Star Team from April 29 through May 14. The team will travel to China and play nine games in 14 days against teams from Brazil, China and Australia.
Ruta Zurauskyte was tops on the team with a 48.6 percent mark shooting while scoring 10.5 ppg and led the team with 7.2 rpg. She averaged 1.0 blocks per game as well.
Ricki Radanovich led the WCC with 68 threes made while scoring 10.5 ppg. Her 68 threes ranked No. 8 in a single season at Santa Clara. She also led the team with 1.8 steals per game.
Nici Gilday showed a well-rounded game all year by averaging 7.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.4 apg and 1.2 spg as the first option off the bench to start the year and as a starter after the injury to Leo.
Freshman Brook Gallaway appeared in 26 games and averaged 2.5 ppg and 1.4 rpg. In a two-game stretch she tallied 20 points with a career-high of 12 coming at LMU on Feb. 7, including knocking down six from the charity stripe. At USF on Feb. 9 Gallaway attempted just two field goals, both from downtown, and made them both.
Arteivia Lilomaiava played her biggest role to date in the 2012-13 season. She appeared in all 30 games and made three starts. Lilomaiava averaged 2.6 ppg and 3.1 rpg while shooting 42.3 percent from the floor.
The 2013 class of Fulps, Armstrong, Leo, Noe Viloria and Telisha Anderson was the first class recruited by Mountain at Santa Clara. With their time now done, Mountain had nothing but praise for the graduating seniors.
"We brought in a very large group for my first recruiting class and this group really has brought us back," said Mountain. "Every single year they've gotten better in the win column and better as individual players. I think they have done absolutely great things off the court for Santa Clara and represented the program and the school in a great way. I have no doubt that there will be people that will do tremendous things when they graduate. I am proud of this group and where they have come because it hasn't been easy. Whenever you're a part of the rebuilding process, there are a lot of lumps along the way and these guys have certainly taken them. Each one of them is so different and brought such different things to the table that we wouldn't be who we are without them. They have set great examples for the returning players and they were certainly a great senior class that did a lot for us."
Off the floor, the accolades continued for the Broncos as they showed their prowess in the classroom. Fulps and Zurauskyte were named to the WCC All-Academic Team while Nici Gilday and Ricki Radanovich were named honorable mention.
"From day one, when we're recruiting them, I think they understand that academics is more important than basketball," said Mountain. "What you do with the four years hear and how seriously you take your academics can set you up for a job when you walk out of here. Our girls have done a great job of taking it seriously and they really enjoy school academically and the challenges that it brings. I'm really proud to have four people recognized by the conference because it means we're doing it in both areas which is important."
As for next season, Bronco fans have a lot to look forward to. There is a talented recruiting class coming to the Mission campus and a lot of talent returning from 2012-13.
'"With the freshmen coming in, I think we will be more athletic and I love our talent coming back," explained Mountain. "I think we will have a little bit different mindset with this group. We'll be a little bit more free flowing where not everything is structured, which creates more exciting basketball. The freshman class coming in will really compliment the people we already have and there are players that can step it up and play right away so it will be very competitive. I certainly think we will be able to go quicker and a little more transition on full court situation than we did last year."