By Diana Viera
Backed by three all conference players and better team dynamics, including the Dons’ first MVP in 14 years, Santa Ana College won eight more games overall and made the playoffs.
“We had a lack of team chemistry last year, which resulted in a bad record,” sophomore guard Rachel Cain said.
Santa Ana College went 17-9 overall and 6-6 in conference, good for fourth place. The team improved on last season’s 9-19 record, 3-9 in conference.
Forward Blaysen Varnadoe was named the Orange Empire Conference MVP after leading the conference with 20.4 points per game and second in rebounds per game with 12.9 rebounds. Tiffany Wells won MVP honors for the Dons in the 2001-02 season.
Freshman guard Taylor Ivicevic was named to the second team after finishing third in conference with 13.8 points on 51 percent field goal shooting. Cain made second team all conference as well, leading the Dons in minutes played, while converting close to four three-pointers per game.
Ivicevic scored 23 points and Varnadoe grabbed 12 rebounds Feb. 11, as the Dons dismantled the Hornets 75-57 to cap the season. Cain added 16 points, converting four of 10 three pointers.
“You know, they showed up as individuals, from any school they were playing at — and they may have played against each other, they may have known each other through club basketball or whatever — but they enjoy each other’s company whether it be on the court or off the court,” Assistant Coach Tom Trokey said.
“I think when you get that tight togetherness, it’s tough to beat. It’s tough to beat.”
Freshman Point Guard Tori Liebel was amazed at how close the team became after every game.
“I just like how everyone is just really close on the team and how we all can talk to each other basically about anything. It’s refreshing because it wasn’t like that in my high school,” Liebel said.
The Dons were set to finish third, but a three-game swoon late in the season allowed Riverside College to move ahead in the standings. SAC dropped back-to-back home games against the Chargers and Irvine Valley College Lasers entering the playoffs.
Santa Ana dropped its lone playoff game 101-94 vs. East Los Angeles.
Varnadoe scored 15 points with 17 rebounds. Ivicevic scored 20 points and Cain canned three shots from behind the arc. Guard Lauren Fruto came off the bench and scored 19 points, converting seven of eight shots.
“I think that our magic ingredient is our togetherness and our symmetry,” Head Coach Flo Luppani said
The coaching staff knows they have done their job, win or lose, because of how the players worked towards a common goal.
“This has been one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had as a coach, and I’ve coached for a long time,” Luppani said.