With non-conference action coming to a close, the battle for an Orange Empire Conference women's basketball championship begins. The OEC currently has 4 teams ranked in the CCCAA top 20, more than any conference in the state. Conference action is set to begin Wednesday, January 4th as No. 18 Saddleback takes on No. 20 Orange Coast, No. 16 Cypress visits Fullerton, and Santa Ana squares off with Irvine Valley. All games are scheduled for 5:00 p.m. tip-off.
Below is a short recap on each team's season heading into OEC play, in order of non-conference records.
Saddleback College- 10-3 overall record, State Ranking: #18, SoCal Ranking: #11
The Gauchos have won 6 of their last 7 games and are coming off an impressive 1st place finish at the San Diego City College Tournament. Saddleback, who finished near the bottom of the OEC standings last season, has seemingly turned it around as they boast the best non-conference record in the OEC. The Gauchos are the only team in the conference with 4 players averaging over 10ppg. Sophomore forward Janae Omusi nearly averages a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 8.8 rebounds per game. Irma Ealy and Kiazha Ginwright each add 13.3ppg for the Gauchos.
Riverside College- 12-4 overall record, State Ranking: #13, SoCal Ranking: #7
The Tigers got out to a hot 9-1 start this season but have struggled as of late, going 3-3 in their last 6 games. Despite their recent struggles, Riverside definitely has the talent to make a serious run at an OEC championship this year. Freshman standout Chiderah Uzowuru does it all for the Tigers, averaging 13.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.8 steals per game. Sophomore Paradise Hanchett is the team's most efficient scorer and the state's second leading rebounder. Hanchett scores 11.3 points per game while shooting over 48% from the field to go along with her 14.1 rebounds per game.
Cypress College- 10-4 overall record, State Ranking: #16, SoCal Ranking: #8
The defending OEC Champion Chargers are poised to make another run this season. With only one sophomore on last season's roster, Cypress managed to keep their core championship group intact. Sophomore backcourt Dominique Culhno and Alyssa Movchan pace a high powered Chargers offense. Culhno averages a team-leading 10.4 points, 3.2 assists, and 2 steals per game. Movchan adds 9.5 points per game and has the ability to take over when called upon. Despite only one player averaging double digit points, the Chargers lead the OEC in scoring at 72.9 points per game. Cypress will rely on a balanced offensive attack and relentless defensive pressure to defend their conference crown.
Orange Coast College- 9-4 overall record, State Ranking: #20, SoCal Ranking: #12
The Pirates got off to a 6-1 start this season before going 3-3 in their last 6 games. Orange Coast lives and dies by the three-point shot, shooting 31.1% from distance on a state leading 424 three-point attempts so far this season. The Pirates rely on a balanced attack led by Chyann Pendergrass and Elizabeth Sakamoto, who each average 9.2 points per game. Pendergrass also leads the conference and ranks third in the state in assists, averaging 6.2 assists per game. Megan McCullough and Michelle Wu each add 9 points per game. With a balanced offensive attack and shooters all over the floor, the Pirates have the ability to beat anyone on any given night.
Santa Ana College- 8-5 overall record, SoCal Ranking: #15
The Dons have looked strong during non-conference play this year led by 2016 Conference MVP Blaysen Varnadoe. Varnadoe is the leading scorer and third leading rebounder in the conference, averaging 17 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Jen Ventura and Taylor Ivicevic each add 11 points per game for the Dons.
Fullerton College- 7-6 overall record
The Hornets rebounded from a tough 1-3 start to the season to get above .500. Fullerton is fresh off of a consolation championship at the College of the Desert Winter Classic. The Hornets are let by their front court duo of Tianna Buford and Monica Hanna. Buford and Hanna each average 10.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
Irvine Valley College- 5-6 overall record
The Lasers began the season winning 4 of their first 6 games but have struggled as of late, dropping 4 of their last 5. Sophomore tandem Aaleah Brown and Kydell Pearson lead the way for the Lasers, each averaging just over 12 points per game. Standout freshman Kiara Warren chips in 8.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game to help pace Irvine.