4 players, including leading scorer, leave Sac State’s women’s basketball team early

AD says head coach is safe after 4 straight losing seasons


Carly Van Den Broeke - The State Hornet

Sac State junior forward Hannah Friend guards Antelope Valley senior guard Samantha Earl in the Hornets 86-80 win Dec. 2 at the Nest. Friend is one of four players transferring from the program this offseason.

Shaun Holkko

In the fourth quarter of the second to last home game of the 2018-19 season, Sacramento State junior guard Hannah Friend stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to make history.

Friend sank both free throw attempts to reach 1,000 points scored as a Hornet, becoming the 14th player in university history to accomplish the feat, and first to do it in just two years with the team.

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Now, Friend is leaving the university.

Friend formally announced on Twitter April 5 that she was entering the transfer portal, and is seeking to use her last year of eligibility elsewhere.

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“I want to thank Sacramento State for the opportunity to continue my basketball career for the past (two) years,” Friend tweeted. “Thank you to those people who I have met that shaped me and who I am forever thankful for. After much consideration from my family and close friends, I have decided to transfer for my final year of eligibility.”

Friend announced on Twitter April 23 that she will be playing her last year of collegiate eligibility 400 miles south of Sacramento at Pepperdine University.

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Friend is a native of San Clemente, California, which is less than 100 miles away from her new school.

As of now, Friend is one of four players leaving the Sac State women’s basketball program this offseason. Junior guard Claire Bady, junior forward Julynne da Silva Sa and sophomore forward Anna Weibel each announced in recent weeks that they will also be transferring.

Unlike Friend, the other three players have not yet announced the schools that they will be playing for next.

It was initially reported that junior guard Quayonna Harris was also leaving the program, but she will remain with the team and continue to focus on recovering from ACL surgery.

Three of the four transferring players declined to comment on their respective decisions to leave the program. Sac State head coach Bunky Harkleroad said playing time was the reason for the other three players deciding to leave the school.

Friend did not lack playing time – in her two seasons on the court at Sac State, she averaged 31.7 minutes per game.

Shaun Holkko – The State Hornet
Sac State head coach Bunky Harkleroad and junior guard Hannah Friend pose for a photo to commemorate Friend becoming the fastest to score 1,000 points at Sac State on March 5 at the Nest. Friend, the team’s leading scorer over the last two seasons, is one of four players transferring from the women’s basketball program this offseason.

In her two years on the court at Sac State, Friend led the team in scoring both seasons. In 2017-18, she averaged 17.5 points per game and 19.1 points per game this season, making Friend the sixth highest scorer in Sac State history.

“We were obviously disappointed, but we’re going to wish Hannah the best,” Harkleroad said. “She’s going to go see what other options she has and I’m sure she will land on her feet.”

Despite multiple requests from The State Hornet for comment, Friend declined to address her reason for transferring to a new school.

One of the four players agreed to go on the record to share her experiences with the team under anonymity. The player requested anonymity to speak her mind without having her comments prevent her from finding a new school to transfer to.

“There’s definitely a problem with the culture top to bottom,” the anonymous player said. “We weren’t empowered as young women. (The culture) wasn’t family oriented and we didn’t spend much time together off the court as a team.”

When The State Hornet asked Harkleroad to respond to accusations of having a negative team culture, he denied the claims.

“We disagree with that,” Harkleroad said. “Everyone that is working out with our team right now really wants to be there and is determined to have the best culture we can.”

The anonymous player described the team’s culture as not family oriented and further explained what she believes is wrong with the program.

“I want to go to a program where I am empowered, encouraged and where I am appreciated as a player as well as a person on and off the court,” the anonymous player said. “A lot of our characters were attacked and not how we are as players. I think there’s an ongoing problem with the culture year after year.”

Junior guard Kennedy Nicholas has spent three years at Sac State under Harkleroad and said he has an open-line of communication with his players.

“Bunky and I have always had a great relationship full of open communication,” Nicholas said. “I feel confident speaking my mind with him and vice versa. I know he tries to have that kind of an open relationship with all of his players.”

Harkleroad said despite the four departures, the team had a great week of practice to open the month of April.

“It’s been one of the best weeks of practice that we have had in a long time,” Harkleroad said. “I like where we are moving forward and culture for any team is always a work in progress. You can talk about culture as much as you want but you have to put the work in and I think this year’s team is a good example of that.”

In 2018-19, the Hornets finished with a 10-19 (6-14 Big Sky) record, beginning the season 4-1 but then going 6-18 to end the year. The Hornets lost six games in a row to end the season, including a first-round exit in the Big Sky Conference tournament.

“We’d like to compete for conference championships year in and year out,” Athletic Director Mark Orr said. “We expect better results on the floor and that’s something that we were disappointed in was the wins and losses.”

Three games into the 2018-19 season, Sac State ranked first in the nation in scoring, averaging 98 points per game and first in 3-point field goals made per game. Friend ranked third in individual scoring with 26 points per game. The early rankings showed the potential of the Hornets.

Nicholas finished the season ranked 13th in offensive rebounds per game (4) and 17th in overall rebounds per game (11.1) nationally.

RELATED: Kennedy Nicholas: From battling the courts to battling for boards

“You go through good times and bad times and how you respond in those bad times can help define your culture,” Harkleroad said. “I think the group we have returning, one of our main goals is to have an unbelievable locker room in terms of supporting each other, building each other’s confidence and doing the best job that we can to represent Sac State.”

Harkleroad has spent six seasons at Sac State and has an overall record of 77-107 and 50-62 in Big Sky Conference play.

The Hornets had their best season under Harkleroad during his first season in 2013-14 when the team went 18-12 overall and 10-10 in conference play. Sac State also had a winning record in his second season, going 18-16 overall and improving their conference record to 13-5.

Since then, the Hornets have had four consecutive losing seasons and compiled an overall record of 41-79.

Following the departures of four players and six seasons at Sac State, The State Hornet asked Harkleroad asked about his job security.

“I don’t even know how to answer that,” Harkleroad said. “We’re trying to do the best job we can every day and do the best job we can to represent Sac State. We are in a very tough league and our goal is still to win the championship.

“I have a team to coach and will have to spend my time focusing on that rather than if I’m on the hot seat or not.”

Orr said that Harkleroad’s job status is currently secure.

“We have two more years left on his contract and we are committed to him and trying to get better,” Orr said. “I don’t have a coach on the hot seat. I’m committed to continuing to work with (Harkleroad) to make the program better and get the results we want.”

Harkleroad and the Hornets now must move forward without their leading scorer and three other players.

Of the 17 players on the roster last season, 12 will be returning for next season. In addition to the four players transferring, the team lost lone senior guard Raegen Rohn to graduation.

With most of the roster returning, the Hornets control their own fate next season. However, if the team faces another losing season, Harkleroad’s seat and talks of the team’s culture may continue.