November 17, 2021 

20 months later, basketball is back in the Matadome

Sights and sounds from an emotional night

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. — For the first time in over a year, women’s basketball was back at the Matadome.

The Cal State Northridge Matadors dispatched the visiting Cal State Dominguez Dons, 72-67 on Monday night in their 2021-22 home opener.

The last time the Matadors played in front of the home crowd was March 5, 2020, against UC Davis. They would lose that game, 71-58, but for about two and a half quarters they stuck with the eventual Big West champion Aggies even leading 31-30 at one point.

They would win their final regular-season game on the road against UC Riverside on March 7, and after that, the world changed forever.

The Matadors would lose to Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the Big West Tournament on March 10, but it was a tournament unlike any before it. Due to the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the first two rounds of the tournament were played without fans in attendance. The last two rounds were canceled as the sports world shut down along with the rest of the country.

The NCAA still held a 2020-21 season with numerous health and safety protocols in place including no fans in arenas, but the Matadors would not take the court last season. The NCAA gave student-athletes the option to opt out of the season due to safety concerns while still retaining eligibility.

Due to player opt-outs, the Matadors were left without enough available players to field a team and made the choice to cancel their season.

But with a brand new NCAA season, CSUN would once again take to their home floor with some major differences. Jason Flowers, the Matadors head coach during the 2019-20 season, is now the Director of Player Development at Cal Baptist University. Graduate student Meghann Henderson, redshirt junior Jordyn Jackson and redshirt sophomore Olivia Smith are the only players left from that roster that played regular minutes. Redshirt junior Tess Amundsen was on that team but she had to sit out in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

For Jackson, the past year was tough without regular basketball games.

“It was really hard, this is what I do every day, play basketball. The fact that I didn’t get to do that was really tough,” Jackson told The Next. “And then a lot of my teammates were going through their own things so it was hard. But we’re here now so that’s all that matters.”

CSUN’s first game of the season was actually last week on the road against the Arizona Wildcats, a game they lost convincingly. Their non-conference schedule doesn’t get much easier with matchups against UCLA and Texas looming this month.

Even though the Matadors pulled off a win against Cal State Dominguez, the last couple of minutes were a little bit shaky as they coughed up a ten-point lead and allowed the Dons to get dangerously close down the stretch. Giving up an open three and turning the ball over at midcourt in the last 36 seconds could’ve been disastrous for CSUN, but they managed to hang on to win.

This is a very young team with nine out of the 15 players on the roster being freshmen. New head coach Carlene Mitchell knows that with only three players who have regular Division 1 experience, it’s going to take some time to develop chemistry and cohesiveness.

“We have to learn how to win games and close games out,” Mitchell told The Next. “We gave up a couple of open threes and a couple of loose balls that we didn’t get on the floor for and get. Those are competitive things. I think the team understands that we didn’t do the little things to deserve the win, we just happened to pull it out because time ran out.”

Jackson has been the team’s leading scorer through two games at 14 points per game while shooting 50 percent from three-point range. She’s shouldering a lot of the offensive load early on and she had a mini-scoring outburst in the third quarter when CSUN first built up a double-digit advantage.

While she liked most of the effort given by the freshmen, she acknowledged that they have some work to do to avoid games like this where they came very close to giving it away.

“We just have to stay disciplined and composed through the whole game from start to finish. I think we came out aggressive and we just have to keep that same tempo throughout,” Jackson said. “We kind of saw it as, ‘oh we’re winning, we’re fine.’ We have to stay disciplined in times like that. . .But I’m glad we stuck through it and we defended when we needed to.”

For Mitchell, this is her second go-round in the Big West. She was the head coach at UC Santa Barbara from 2011-2015 after Lindsay Gottlieb left for Cal. She has a wealth of coaching experience, having served under C. Vivian Stringer as an assistant at Rutgers as well as serving under Amber Stocks in the WNBA as an assistant with the Chicago Sky.

She knows this is a very young and inexperienced team. What she has been pleased with is the way the players have responded to her since she arrived, especially the multitude of freshmen who she really has no choice but to give major minutes.

“I’ve been here for three months. They’ve totally bought in, they’ve been great, they’re working extremely hard,” Mitchell said. “That’s all I can ask for. It’s my job to make sure they’re ready, make sure they’re ready to compete when they step on the floor, and that they feel confident and comfortable in what we’re trying to have them do.”

And although it was a bit of a shaky end to the game, it still felt good for the team to get a win in front of the home crowd for the first time since February 27, 2020, when the Matadors knocked off Long Beach State, 66-54.

“We’re just very emotional,” Jackson said. “We’re just really happy, just grateful for this moment that we have again. A year with no basketball, that kind of takes a big toll on you.”

Written by David Yapkowitz

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