It was a quiet bus ride home again for the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team. But for the first time this season, that quiet was a peaceful one.
After 21 straight losses, Northridge finally broke through with a dramatic 73-72 victory at Cal State Bakersfield on Thursday night.
"You'd think the girls would all be jumping around, but it was kind of quiet actually. We were tired, because of everything we've been through. But for the first time, it felt good being tired," Northridge's third-year head coach Staci Schulz said.
"The players had been very resilient. We've stuck together. We've been playing good enough basketball to win, but in enough key moments in the second half, we'd lose confidence. So getting that win was huge."
Schulz came into the season 23-36 in two seasons as head coach. Three years ago, she was the lead assistant on Northridge's 18-11 team, so it's not like she's never built a winner before.
But last season, Northridge graduated seven seniors, including four starters. Among those was one of the school's all-time leading scorer, Ofa Tulikihihifo, who is now playing professionally in Europe.
Add in a rigorous non-conference schedule (six of the Matadors nine non-conference opponents have winning records) and you had the recipe for a tough season.
The team's only senior is center Katie Holloway. The losing has been especially hard on her, since she's improved her game each year she's been at the school.
"It's been really tough," Holloway said. "But there was never a point where I thought we'd lose all our games. In a lot of ways, I've gained a lot from going through it. How to handle things, how to stay positive."
It was fitting then, that Holloway was the one to sink the game-winning basket. She'd missed a chance to put Northridge ahead by three points with 40 seconds left, then watched at Bakersfield hit a shot to regain the lead.
The Matadors had played one of their best games of the season. Four players -Holloway (26 points), Whitney Ligon (16 points), Katrina Thompson (14) and Crystal Hahs (11 points, five blocks) -had scored in double figures. But now they needed a last-second shot to win.
Northridge called timeout and drew up a final play. They executed it well, but Ligon's shot fell short of the rim. Holloway could tell it was short from the start. She lept up, caught the ball under the basket, took one step to create some space and put the ball back in with 2.2 seconds remaining.
"Apparently, there were like three people around me," she said, laughing.
"All I cared about was that it went in, and I didn't run out of time. We've been getting closer and closer, but we just really needed that extra push."