Mustangs host the annual Holiday Beach Classic this weekend


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — After the nation’s No. 1 team visited South Carolina at the Mott Athletics Center on Tuesday to start a four-game homestand, Cal Poly women’s basketball is now gearing up to be this year annual Holiday Beach Classic tournament weekend.

The Mustangs (2-3) meet Sacramento State (3-1) at 12 p.m. Friday before meeting San Jose State (1-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Additionally, there will be one non-Cal Poly game each day. Friday, UTEP meets San Jose State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, UTEP meets Sacramento State at 12:00 p.m.

In its first five games of the season, Cal Poly has played the ninth-toughest schedule in the country. The Mustangs have previously played against a now UCLA team, No. 2 Stanford and No. 1 South Carolina. The Mustangs also played against Simpson University and Fresno State, amassing victories in both.

In the first five games, elder forward Julia Nielacna, who sat out Tuesday’s game against South Carolina, leads Cal Poly with 9.0 points per game. Sophomore Annika Shah, who made the game-winning shot against Fresno State, is second. He averaged 7.8 points per game and led the team with 3.2 assists per game. Shah also leads the Big West in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.28. Junior forward Natalia Ackerman leads the team with 5.2 rebounds per game.

Against the top-ranked Gamecocks, the defending champion, Shah led the Mustangs by eight points and with two rebounds and two assists.

Tuesday’s game against South Carolina also saw the second-largest attendance in Mott Athletics Center history for a women’s basketball, with 2,384 fans in attendance.

Cal Poly is looking to go 2-0 at this weekend’s Holiday Beach Classic for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Last year they went 1-1 with St. Thomas before falling to Montana State.

After Saturday’s game, the Mustangs have until December 10th when they welcome NAU to the Mott Athletics Center.

Explore the state of Sacramento: The Hornets enter Friday’s game having won three straight games after losing their first game of the season. All of their wins have been against Big West opponents, most recently a 67-45 win over UC Davis. They have two players averaging over 15 points per game, led by Kahlaijah Dean’s 20 per game.

Scouting in San Jose State: The Spartans start this season with 1:3. Their losses came to Tulsa, Cal State Fullerton, and Montana State, with their only win coming against CSUN. Last year they finished 5th to 25th overall. An evenly scored team, they have five players averaging over six points per game. Cal Poly has won the last two meetings against San Jose State, the last of the 2011-12 season.

Returning Mustangs: Despite losing two starters from last year, Cal Poly brings back a lot from last year’s team. Two of the team’s top three scorers are back this year.

Senior Guard Maddie Willett returns after finishing second on the team last year at 8.9 ppg while leading the team with three points and three points.

Elderly forward Julia Nielacna is also back, having averaged 8.3 ppg last season while playing in 24 of 25 games and starting 11.

In addition to those two, five players are back this season who played at least 22 games last year.

New Poles: Cal Poly added seven freshmen to this year’s team, four freshmen and three transfers to Division I. The three transfers consist of graduate student Nikola Kovacikova, graduate student Oumou Toure and junior Taylor Wu.

Kovacikova joins Cal Poly after previously playing at both Penn and Georgetown. Last season with Penn, she played in 19 games from eight starts. Off the court, she received Penn’s Norman J. Goldring Award and the George H. Frazier Award, which is given to a senior student with the highest GPA. She spent her first two college seasons in Georgetown. As a sophomore in 2019-20, she appeared in 27 games from 12 starts and was the Hoyas’ third-top scorer averaging 7.9 ppg.

Toure comes to Cal Poly after spending the last three years at Butler. She played her first season before missing the next two due to injury and the COVID pandemic. As a 2019-20 freshman, she was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team. That season, she appeared in 27 games, made 20 starts and finished second on the team with 9.1 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the field, resulting in 6.1 rebounds per game. She also led the Big East and ranked 45th in the NCAA with 2.33 steals per game.

Wu spent the last three seasons at California Baptist University, where she played in 70 career games. She made her mark as a freshman in 2019-20, averaging 6.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.7 apg in 18.4 minutes per game. She broke the program’s freshman single-game record after losing 37 points to Ottawa (AZ) and in the same game broke the program record for three-pointers set in a game of 10.

As a sophomore, she started 19 of 27 games, averaging 8.9 ppg, 1.7 apg, and 21.9 minutes per game. She scored 11 goals in double figures, including a season-high 15 against Pepperdine.