UC San Diego found out the hard way that trusting anything outside of the team is unreliable. Last season they leaned heavily on the old saying “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Last year the Tritons stumbled badly out of the gate with a 0-6 start, but recovered and finished a respectable 20-11. The folks selecting Division II playoff teams, though, were not impressed. The Tritons were left home.
“It was devastating,” Chelsea Carlisle, UCSD’s standout senior point guard, said. “This program, the standard is you make the playoffs, and to not do that really was devastating. We feel like we let a lot of people down. It was a huge motivating factor for us for sure.
“From that moment, we knew we needed to work and we needed to get better so that would never happen again. We wanted to control our destiny. Last year we learned we can’t put that in anyone else’s control. We need to control everything that we can control like coming out every night and playing as hard as we can.”
UCSD is leaving nothing to chance this year. Going into Friday night’s game against Cal State Monterey Bay it is 24-0 and ranked No. 1 in Division II. With four games left it has sewn up the regular season title, the third in the last four years. Despite that the Tritons will be looking for their first conference title. Still, this amazing season surely has vanquished last year’s demons, right?
“I’m still not over it,” Carlisle said. “I think that’s still what is a big motivation for us. The success this year makes us feel better, but we still have that bad taste in our mouths from what happened. It keeps us on our toes and wanting more.”
Having senior leadership that is all about business has made head coach Charity Elliott’s job more rewarding this year. She knew from how her team finished last season that this season’s team had the chance to be special.
“From our conditioning, to the weight room, to practices, we’ve been trying to step up our game in everything we do,” Elliot said. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group. The unselfishness. Every single person has bought into what we’re trying to do.
“We still have a long way to go. We keep talking about the fact that we honestly haven’t done anything yet. We’re doing great. But we didn’t set out to be undefeated right now. We set out, so that at the end of the year, we’ve reached our potential. If we can approach each and every game with that mentality — just being the best that night — hopefully we can continue the success that we’ve had.”
Leading the way has been Carlisle. For the season she’s averaging 16.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.7 steals. She has hit over 39 percent of her three point attempts and has scored in double figures in all but one game this season. The Agoura Hills, Ca., native has been conference Player of the Week five time.
Perhaps an even bigger part of the success is the play of Daisy Feder. Although she played in 31 games last season, she was slowed considerably by some health issues. With those now behind her, Feder, the team’s second-leading scorer with 12.8 points per game (3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists) has been a force.
“She is, this year, finally playing at the level of basketball and ability that I remembered when I recruited her,” Elliott said. “She’s the kind of player we knew she would be, and she knew she would be. She’s back on track and has had an explosive type year. A tremendous complement to Chelsea Carlisle and Emily Osgood — who are both returning first team all-conference players. That’s been the biggest surprise and I feel so happy for her. I am proud of her.”
There is still unfinished business to get on with. Considering how thorough the team has played this season the Tritons have given no indication they will slip up any time soon. Regardless, they are continually self-policing themselves and playing at a high level.
“Everybody would be pleased with an undefeated season up to this point,” Elliott said. “But our goal was never to be ranked No. 1 in January or in February, or to be undefeated at this point. We set out to have one of those years where it all comes together, where everybody does what they need to do, and that’s what I am proud of.
“So much of our season remains before us. And can we maintain the sense of urgency and focus that we’ve had up to this point. With few exceptions, our team has been very, very consistent with its effort. Even a few of our wins, we’ve treated like losses because we didn’t perform up to our standard and our ability. That has continued to be what we’ve strived for each and every night.”