At Los Banos High, Brianna Harden was a rebounding machine.
Now, in her sophomore year at NCAA Division 2 San Francisco State University, Harden is continuing that same role.
In 10 games so far for the Gators, Harden has averaged 15 minutes, 5.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The most important category for Harden and SFSU coach Joaquin Wallace is the rebounds.
“He expects me to be the rebounder,” Harden said. “If I’m put in the game, I’m expected to get the majority of rebounds. If I don’t get those rebounds, I’ll be right back on the bench.”
She may not be a starter, but she’s played an important role on a team that’s had its best start (7-3 overall, 3-1 in California Collegiate Athletic Association play) in Wallace’s nine years with the school. In the Dec. 18 Division 2 coaches poll, SFSU received one vote – the first vote the team has received since the 1983-84 season, according to the school.
“With receiving a vote, everybody was excited,” Harden said. “But we were also confused, because Chico and Stanislaus are receiving more votes and we beat them. Coach Wallace says we have to earn our respect. We know we need to keep working hard.”
A 69-63 loss to Sonoma State on Dec. 22 put a damper on that start, and the respect the team feels it deserves. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak.
“Honestly, we need to keep on winning. We shouldn’t have lost the Sonoma game,” Harden said. “We need to beat everybody, and I think we can. We’re a strong team, we just need to keep going.”
Harden is one of four returning players for the Gators, along with seniors Angela Van Sickel from Whittier, Jennifer Le from San Jose and Lauren Varney from Oak Park. The rest are either freshmen or transfers from other schools.
“They do look at me as a returner. I know a lot of how Wallace works and his expectations,” Harden said. “But at this point, we’re halfway into the season, so everybody’s pretty comfortable with him.”
Harden’s production is a major improvement over her freshman season, when she averaged 6.3 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. Harden focused on conditioning over the summer, putting miles on her running shoes and spending plenty of time in the weight room.
“When we come back from summer, he expects us to hit our mile time. Pretty much all summer I’m running,” Harden said. “My mile time was 6:25, and I hit under 6:20. It shows him we’re ready to start the season off. If you don’t hit it, you don’t get to practice with the team.”
The sophomore eased into the practice routine much better with a year of experience under her belt.
“I knew what he expects. It wasn’t brand new like last year,” Harden said. “I knew all the plays, I knew how practice worked, and just by knowing all that it made me more comfortable. I was not as stressed out or as scared.”
The season opener gave an indication of what Harden could do when she scored the first double-double of her college career, scoring 17 points and bringing down 14 rebounds against Pacific Union on Nov. 12.
“I didn’t know I had a double double until the end of the game,” she said. “I was pretty excited.”
Other highlights have included a 12-point, 8-rebound game against Holy Names on Nov. 19 and an 8-point, 9-rebound game against Chico State. But the easy part of the schedule is over – the next four SFSU games are on the road – at CSU, Los Angeles on Jan. 3; at CSU, Dominguez Hills on Jan. 4; at Cal Poly, Pomona on Jan. 9; and at Humboldt State on Jan. 11 – before the Gaters return home to face CSU, San Bernardino on Jan. 17.
It helps to live across the street from the university with three of her teammates. Harden said the team is focused on making the 32-team Division 2 playoff bracket at the end of the season.
“As a team, I think this year we’ll be able to go pretty far. We want to go to the tournament,” she said. “Everybody’s getting along. There’s no drama at all.”