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Longomo, Muanandibu becoming leaders for Matadors
Coaches talk about leading vocally and leading by example.
The Arizona Western women's basketball team this year has a pair of returning sophomores that are taking on a leadership role. And thanks to a sizeable language barrier, they are leading by example.
Arizona Community College Freshman of the Year Lisette Longomo and center Emilie Muanandibu, both from Kinasha, Congo, are the top two returners for the Matadors this year. Last year's team went 26-5, with three of those losses coming to Central Arizona, including in the NJCAA Region I Championship.
Patrick Cunningham, who is beginning his 14th year at the helm of the Matadors, said the duo — who combined to average 22.1 points per game last year — are leading by example.
“They're not leading as much vocally, but they've been through it for a year,” Cunningham said. “Their effort is consistent, they know what it takes, so that's a big plus. They're not leader types, but we have other kids that are stepping up and doing that. And Lisette has done a good job. She's not as vocal but you can tell the kids follow her.”
Cunningham said that's essential for the new players who are not familiar with the hi-low game the Matadors employ on offense. And there are plenty of new faces this year for AWC, starting with point guard Nicollette Villescaz, a transfer from South Mountain. She takes over for Jade Washington, who left for Delaware State after her freshman year with AWC.
“She's kind of taken Jade's spot,” Cunningham said. “She's more of a scorer than Jade was. Maybe not as athletic, but she has experience in our league. And Imari (Lyons) has played at Butler in the Jayhawk Conference. So she has good experience at our level. Then we have Nicole Fountain, who's coming off an injury but was at Cal Lutheran. So they're a little older, and we have little (Jaclanne Pagala) who's from Hawaii who will help us at the point guard spot. And Jazmin Strane is a Lisette type — a long guard.”
But Cunningham said the offense starts with the 6-foot-4 Muanandibu (7.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks) on the inside and the 6-1 Longomo (15 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals) on the outside.
“We're hoping our defense makes it hard for teams to score,” Cunningham said. “Our offense is built around inside play, but we think we can shoot it a little better. It's just getting used to two-post basketball. It takes awhile for them to figure out they do get opportunities in our offense. It's just a matter in the half court, you have to have patience. We'll go as our defense goes, and if our defense figures it out we'll have the opportunity to win games.”
Both Longomo and Muanandibu said they have high hopes for the year.
“This year we have nice players,” Longomo said. “We can do better this year.”
“We have a good team” Muanandibu said. “We can go to the championship. We need to work hard. We have a good team.”
Cunningham said he hopes the Matadors get another shot at the Vaqueras in the postseason this year. That shouldn't be too hard, given Central Arizona has won the past 10 Region I titles, the last four against the Matadors.
“Central is highly ranked and full of talent,” Cunningham said, “but we want that opportunity at the end of the year.”