While the weather outside starts to get colder, it's been heating up inside the gym as the Delta women's basketball team gets set to open up their season on Nov. 1, when they play host to the Jocelyn Mancebo Classic.
"I feel like we have high expectations," said long-time head coach Gina Johnson about the upcoming season. "We are coming off last year's final four team. We didn't win our conference championship but we had a great finish. We are returning seven sophomores along with a really good group of freshmen coming in."
Last season the Mustangs went 26-6 and were two wins away from a state championship but they will have a much different look this year as they will be without their top five leading scorers from last season.
"We are missing a lot, but I am so used to the community college level where we just have to rebuild every year that I guess in a way I don't panic," said Johnson as their top four leading scorers last season were sophomores and Trena Rathjen will miss this season with an injury after averaging 8.8 points per game as a freshman last season.
"Our sophomores that are returning were in the mix they just weren't playing a majority of the minutes."
After not playing her senior year in high school, Kendall Weary averaged six points per game as a freshman last season and Monet Brown averaged 5.2 points per game as the two will be the team's leading scorers back from last year with coach Johnson excited to see what both will bring to the team this season.
"We have two or three freshmen that I see playing a lot of minutes," said Johnson about the new faces to the team this season. "I think they are one of our top freshman classes. I'm excited and they will have a big impact on the success of the season."
Three of those freshmen are Donja Payne from East Union of Manteca, Sara Ruiz from Bear Creek of Stockton, and Alisha Jones from Beyer of Modesto.
"Donja Payne is 6'2 and really raw and has lots of potential to get even better. She has great hands, is long, rebounds well, and has a good touch around the basket."
"Very competitive," said Johnson when first asked about Sarah Ruiz who has been seeing a significant amount of time at the point guard position but will also be needed to score. "We really need her as a scorer so she will be off the point position a little bit because we love her ability to shoot the three. Great passing and probably one of the better passers I have seen come in as a freshman."
Joining the Mustangs late was Jones who was the Modesto Bee player of the year during her senior year. "She brings a lot of scoring ability to the team but she is still learning," said Johnson. "I think she is going to have a great season when she gets in the flow and we expect her to play a lot."
"I loved our team last year but we have more depth this year. I don't feel like there is one player that can't come off the bench and play."
With some of the top teams from around the state coming to play in the season-opening Jocelyn Mancebo Classic the Mustangs will get a good early season test to find out where they stand this season. "I'm challenging the girls," said Johnson. "I'm challenging them here early in the season as we want to win the tournament and it will be difficult."
They will take the court for the first time this season at Blanchard Gym at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, when they will take on Merritt.