Standing tall

Sende, Warriors win national title

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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Lauren Sende had quite a freshman basketball season at Westmont College.

Not only did the 2012 Oak Ridge graduate play in 32 of her team’s 34 games, but she also contributed to a successful season, as the Warriors finished the year with a 30-4 record and won the NAIA National Championship.

Sende, a 6-foot, 2-inch post player who backed up the team’s starting center, Kelsie Sampson, averaged 12 minutes of playing time a game, scoring two points and pulling down four rebounds per game.

“It was a pretty good year to go all the way and win the national championship,” Sende said. “I loved the team and my coaches, who were all supportive and pushed me. I was able to adjust to the learning curve and excel and I’m looking forward to my sophomore year.”

Arguably her best game of the season came in the second round of the NAIA tournament, when the Warriors defeated Rogers State, 77-70. With Sampson in foul trouble, Sende played 11 minutes and scored eight points on three-of-four shooting, pulled down two rebounds and added an assist.

“We wouldn't have won that game without Lauren stepping up in a high-pressure situation and playing great,” Westmont Coach Kirsten Moore said. “Lauren is a competitor and wants to do all she can to help her team win. She has natural leadership skills and I am so excited to see her excel and help our team succeed on and off the court.”

Sende was simply happy to contribute to the team’s win and despite her good shooting night, was proud of her defense.

“Coming into that game, I knew that Rogers State had a couple of big post players and we needed to shut them down,” Sende said. “I really worked hard on my defense all season. In high school, you can get away with some things, but in college you have to do everything correctly, down to having the proper footwork to play solid, fundamental defense.”

The Warriors won the game by seven and then in their closest game of the postseason, defeated Westminster (Utah), by three points, 39-36. In the national semis, Westmont upset the top team in the country, Freed-Hardeman (Tennessee), 59-59, before claiming the national championship with a 71-65 win over Lee (Tennessee) March 19.

Prior to the season, Sende didn’t have any expectations other than making a positive impact when she stepped on the floor. The transition to playing collegiate ball was both physically and mentally difficult, but a month into the season Sende began to feel comfortable.

“Coming into the season as a freshman, I was nervous, but I wanted to come in with confidence and believing in myself, which is something I struggled with in high school,” Sende said. “I thought I did pretty well with that.”

In the team’s first loss of the season, Westmont fell to Cal Lutheran, 49-48 Nov. 30. With Sampson out of the lineup, Sende played 21 minutes and though she didn’t score, she grabbed 12 rebounds and played a solid game.

“I had to step up in that game and I had 12 rebounds and after that game, I just felt like I can do this. I know how to play at this level.”

Sende said her post defense improved throughout the season, as well as her confidence and ability to take the ball to the basket and going into contact.

Moore was thrilled with Sende’s contributions and development this season.

“Lauren is a great player and an even better person,” Moore said. “She is a true student-athlete that has excelled academically as well as finding success on the court. Lauren played an important role in helping us win a national championship. She is extremely coachable and her upside is huge because she is intelligent and has a great work ethic. These qualities helped her improve throughout the season and she was ready when called upon at the National Tournament to give us big minutes.”

After a long and rewarding season, Sende enjoyed some time away from the game after winning the championship. Now it’s time to get back to work.

“We’re starting up again Thursday after a week-and-a-half off,” Sende said. “I need to get stronger and quicker so that’s my main focus. I also want to develop my outside shot. It’s back to the grind, but I love it.”