PASADENA (Nov. 8, 2019) – The Caltech women's basketball team is set to begin an exciting new era on the heels of the greatest season in program history.
Both new and old faces will be tasked with stepping up after the Beavers graduated career blocks leader Elizabeth Eiden '19 and career assists leader Nika Haleftiras '19. Between familiar returners and a talented freshman class, the Beavers will have a chance to pick up where they left off having secured the first 10-win season in the history of the women's basketball program.
"We graduated talent and leadership, but I think our freshmen chose Caltech for the opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact," Head Coach Bridgette Reyes said. "They have an amazing future ahead of them and we're all excited to see how quickly they embrace their roles."
Senior Grace Peng (San Ramon, Calif. / California) is expected to log heavy minutes at point guard. Peng has shown herself capable of having an offense run through her in the past (13.5 career ppg) and she has shown an ability to score from the outside to go with a quick first step, allowing her to get inside or finish at the free-throw line. The senior captain is an excellent on-ball defender with her 1.6 steals per game ranking sixth in the conference last season. Overall, her junior year proved to be a marked step forward despite missing the first third of the season, leading to what could be a career season for the NorCal native.
"Grace is a dynamo at point guard," Reyes said. "She never ceases to amaze me with the ability to create, finish, defend, and lead."
Four more returners will join Peng, each possessing the skills to contribute in different ways. Junior forward Kali Drango (Lake Oswego, Ore. / Lake Oswego) is looking forward to a healthy junior year after battling illness over the first half of her career but has shown a scoring touch in the past. Sophomore Elaine Lin (Brea, Calif. / Troy), the only second-year player on the roster, might be as tough of a competitor as the Beavers have. Lin flashed a perimeter game during her rookie season while providing the team with a heap of energy off the bench in a supplemental role. Senior Alexa Lauinger (Ortonville, Mich. / Brandon) joins Peng as one of just two seniors on this year's squad. The three-sport scholar-athlete will be looking to give her final season on the court everything she has as a physical, low-post presence as well as a vocal leader. Junior Lauren Suezaki (San Ramon, Calif. / California) is penciled in as the Beavers' second captain. When healthy, the third-year player has shown upside as a five-category contributor, grabbing six key rebounds in the Beavers' final win of the previous season against the University of La Verne.
The freshman class should mesh quickly with the returners, given their talent level, experience, basketball IQ and willingness to share the ball. Forward Sahana Saikumar (Arcadia, Calif. / Arcadia) is capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor and carries with her a unique skill set for her 6-foot-1 frame. The local talent can play every position on both ends of the floor and can create her own chances if needed. Guard Faith Pinney (Spokane, Wash. / Gonzaga Preparatory School) brings a quickness, positive energy and defensive tenacity to the team. The Beavers will need consistent, disciplined play, particularly in the backcourt and Pinney would appear to check both boxes in the early going. Caltech's remaining two freshmen join the team fresh off the fall season. Guard Helen Siavelis (Arlington Heights, Ill. / Prospect), a defender on the women's soccer team, should bring a similar mentality to the basketball team and give the Beavers quality minutes off the bench. Forward Charley Lafayette (Toronto, Ontario, Can. / Branksome Hall), a middle blocker on the volleyball team, who stands at six-feet tall will supplement the team's frontcourt depth while she continues to hone her game.
With just under half the team consisting of new faces, Reyes and the Beavers will need to find a space in which the players can hold each other accountable. It took time last season with the program sporting a 10-woman roster, but from Jan. 23 onward, the Beavers won five of their final eight games, so there is potential for a repeat performance if the accountability gets to where Reyes and her staff believe it needs to be.
"Our program attracts fearless young people who are driven by the challenge of problem-solving, collaboration, and competitiveness," Reyes said. "If we can continue to build our team's accountability and leadership, our squad will be ready to compete. Our kids are resilient, tough, and win or lose, they are going to be prepared for life after basketball. As Tommy Lasorda once said, 'The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person's determination.' Here at Caltech, we have plenty of determination."
Reyes and the Beavers will open the 2019-20 season on Saturday, Nov. 16 against the University of St. Katherine at 2 p.m.