By ED PETRUSKA Contributing Writer Casa Grande Dispatch/Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — By any measure, the 2016-17 season was a stunning bust for the four-time national champion Central Arizona College women's basketball team.
The Vaqueras went 19-10 overall, the first time since 1980-81 they did not win at least 20 games. CAC took sixth in the 12-team Arizona Community College Athletic Conference with a 14-8 mark and missed the playoffs for just the second time in the program's 43-year history.
Until last season, the Vaqueras had never finished lower than fifth in the ACCAC or lost more than six conference games.
"It was a tough year, and I'm not going to make any excuses," said Denise Cardenas, who enters her 10th season as CAC's coach with a 255-40 overall record. "We can learn from last year, but we can't dwell on it."
Cardenas is confident the Vaqueras, who open the 2017-18 season Thursday against Western Texas in Hobbs, New Mexico, have the personnel to return to form.
"With the players we have, we have a chance to make a good run," she said. "I like what I see in their daily efforts. We need that combination of having the right players on the floor, coaching and chemistry to get the job done."
Forward Kiara Knox heads the list of CAC's four returners. Knox was named ACCAC freshman of the year and earned all-ACCAC first-team honors last season after averaging 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.6 steals.
The other returning starter is guard Jamie Young, who averaged 8.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals.
Among the key reserves are returners Kaosarat Onikoyi, a guard who averaged 9.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 steals; and Juliet Currency, a forward who averaged 6.5 points and 5.9 rebounds.
"There is a chance (for all 11 on the roster) to contribute at some point," Cardenas said. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Three of the ACCAC's four Division I teams qualify for the Region 1 tournament. Cochise (28-4, 19-3) is the defending conference and region champion. The Apaches went 1-1 at the NJCAA Tournament, losing in the second round as the No. 21 seed in the 24-team field.
Arizona Western (23-9, 17-5) and Eastern Arizona (20-11, 17-5) both finished three games ahead of the Vaqueras in conference play.
Mesa (23-10, 16-6) and Pima (23-8, 16-6) were the only Division II teams to have winning records last season. Mesa lost in the first round of the national tourney as the No. 4 seed.
CAC will play three games in Hobbs, the last against sixth-ranked New Mexico Junior College on Saturday.
The Vaqueras have home games against Tucson Sol on Nov. 11 and West Coast Wings on Nov. 15 before their Nov. 21 conference opener at Scottsdale.