Even the most humble maestro must accept some of the accompanying applause in leading his performers in a rousing rendition of symphonic majesty. Much the same on the hardwood, a basketball head coach understands that while the players on the court determine the outcome on the scoreboard, they too must share and relish in the spectacle of success. Just don't expect Cal State Northridge women's basketball head coach Jason Flowers to toot his own horn after a remarkable season with the Matadors.
In his second season at CSUN, Flowers has quickly instilled a new culture in his program. One predicated on hard work, dedication and humility, Flowers guided the Matadors to an impressive and historic campaign in the 2011-12 season. The Matadors finished 17-14 overall, compiling the best turnaround in the nation, and posted an 11-5, second-place finish in the Big West Conference. The success culminated in an invitation to the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), just the second time in the school's Division-I history that the Matadors participated in the postseason.
As a group, the team recorded numerous achievements. One of those was a victory over West Virginia, the program's first win ever over a BIG EAST opponent, to win the Holiday Inn Woodland Hills Thanksgiving Basketball Classic 2012. In toppling the Mountaineers, the Matadors set the stage for a run through the Big West Conference where CSUN posted its best finish in the league standings in over a decade. At 11-5 in league play, the Matadors recorded double-figure wins in conference action for just the fourth time in the school's Division-I history.
Among other highlights, CSUN won its season opener for the first time in seven seasons and picked up its first win over LMU in 15 years. The Matadors also swept three conference opponents during the regular season and hosted a Big West Conference Tournament Quarterfinal contest.
Individually, Northridge earned numerous accolades that included several major awards. Jasmine Erving earned All-Big West Conference First Team honors in her senior season, establishing herself as one of the top players in the program's history.
In her four seasons as a Matador, Erving finished second in school history in games played (117), games started (100) and in career points (1,536). She also fourth in school history in career free throws (267) and in rebounds (773) while setting the school record with 149 blocked shots in her career.
In 2011-12, Erving led the Matadors in scoring (14.9 points), rebounding (8.2) and in blocks per game (1.5). She scored a career-high 36 points on a school record 16 field goals in the Matadors' victory at UC Irvine. In the 31 games, Erving posted 13 double-doubles and ended her career with 26 such performances to go along with 76 double-figure scoring games.
Fellow upperclassmen Violet Alama received Big West Co-Sixth Woman of the Year honors after giving the Matadors a spark off the bench all season. The junior forward averaged 7.2 points and 5.9 rebounds while appearing in all 31 games. She also earned All-Big West Conference Honorable Mention honors and had a season-high 19 points and 10 rebounds in a game at UC Davis.
Also, as a reflection of a talented first complete signing class of freshman and transfers, two Matador rookies earned All-Big West honors. Janae Sharpe, originally from Rialto, Calif., was named the conference's Freshman of the Year after leading all first-year players in scoring. She also earned All-Big West Second Team honors, the only freshman to be ranked among the conference's top 11 players by the league's head coaches.
Sharpe averaged 11.4 points in her rookie season and also led the team with 110 free throws and 145 free throw attempts. She scored a season-high 19 points on four different occasions and earned the conference's weekly Player of the Week honors after leading the Matadors to victories over UC Riverside and UC Irvine. She also averaged 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals for the season and finished in double-figures in 19 games.
Joining Sharpe was Ashlee Guay, who earned All-Big West Freshman Team and Honorable Mention honors after leading the Big West Conference in assists (129) and steals. Her 91 steals set a new school record and both she and Erving tied a school record by starting all 31 games in the 2011-12 season.
Originally from San Diego, Guay averaged 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists on the season. She had two games with seven steals, two with six and six more games with at least four. Guay scored a season-high 23 points when she tied a school record with seven 3-pointers. In fact, at 7-for-7 from behind the arc, Guay tied for the nation's best single performance from 3-point range.
CSUN also got solid performances all season from junior Jianni Jackson, sophomore Haley White and freshmen Camille Mahlknecht and Randi Friess. A junior college transfer, Jackson finished the season strong for Northridge. She scored a season-high 14 points and had seven rebounds in the Matadors' victory at Pacific and added 12 points and two 3-pointers at Cal Poly.
In her second season with the program, White showed her versatility by often guarding four positions on the court. She finished with a season-high 12 points, seven rebounds and six field goals in the Matadors' comeback victory at Pacific and had 11 points and three steals in the WNIT game.
Mahlknecht appeared in all 31 games and made 20 starts for the Matadors. She averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds on the season and finished with 45 blocked shots, the fourth-most in school history for a single season. Mahlknecht scored a season-high 14 points and seven field goals at Oregon State and pulled down a season-high 13 rebounds in a win over San Jose State.
Friess brought toughness on defense to the Matadors in her first season. She started 14 games and appeared in 30 overall while averaging 2.6 points and 3.1 rebounds on the season. She pulled down a season-high nine rebounds on two occasions and knocked down two 3-pointers in the Matadors' victory at UC Irvine.
Two other Matadors, Felicia Walker and Kourtney Ainsworth, also showed flashes of brilliance in their opportunities. Walker, a Northern California native, scored a career-high six points against her home hometown San Jose State Spartans while Ainsworth provided toughness and defense in 11 games during her rookie season.
The final award the Matadors earned in 2011-12 went to Flowers, who was named the Big West Conference Coach of the Year. In typical Flowers fashion, the coach deflected most of the limelight to his players:
"The student-athletes worked extremely hard all season and I am proud of this group for what they've accomplished and what's still to come," Flowers said. "Our record is the result of a strong effort by our student-athletes, coaching staff and administrative personnel all season. I am humbled by the recognition, but understand that this award is indicative of a good team."
And every good team, whether a group of woodwinds or young women, needs a great leader to bring out their best.