By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Asher Cai, Sunny Huerta, Samaad Hector and Camron McNeil named to the GNAC Preseason All-Conference Team

CWU basketball shares aspirations of a conference title


Sophomore guard Asher Cai shooting the ball against the Seattle Pacific University Falcons. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson _ Thompson Sports Media)
Senior guard Camron Mcneil dribbling the ball in a game against the Simon Fraser University Red Leafs. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson / Thompson Sports Media)
Senior forward Samaad Hector shooting the ball against the Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson / Thompson Sports Media)
Junior guard Sunny Huerta getting ready to pass the ball in a game against the Seattle Pacific University Falcons. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson / Thompson Sports Media)

CWU’s basketball teams are gearing up for an exciting season, with standout performances anticipated from both sides. 

Representing the women’s basketball team is sophomore guard Asher Cai and junior guard Sunny Huerta as selections to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) Preseason All-Conference Team.

From the men’s team, senior forward Samaad Hector and senior guard Camron McNeil were also recognized as GNAC Preseason All-Conference selections. These players shared their thoughts on the upcoming season, their roles on the team and their individual goals.

Both Hector and McNeil were the men’s team’s top returning scorers last season, along with being leaders in other critical facets of the game.

“Being named to the GNAC Preseason team is a great honor and it feels good,” Hector, who led his team in blocks last season, said. ”It’s a testament to how well I played last year really and what I am expected to do this year.” 

McNeil, who held the title of his team’s leading scorer last season, was appreciative of the recognition as well. He sees it as a standard to live up to and strives to set a positive example, along with Hector, for the team.

Hector’s shot-blocking ability was a game-changer for the men’s team last season, energizing the team’s defense and discouraging opponents from driving toward the basket.

“Blocking shots kind of emulates both of those qualities and something about blocking a shot boosts the confidence in myself and lowers that of the person who was just blocked,” Hector said. “I love it.” 

On the other end of the court, McNeil’s scoring prowess was instrumental in the Wildcats’ early success. He shared that scoring comes naturally when he allows the game to come to him.

“This year I am surrounded by some guys who can flat out shoot the ball, and I plan on being able to play off of their strengths,” McNeil said. His approach emphasizes taking opportunities as they come and leveraging the strengths of his teammates.

From the women’s team, Cai felt pride in her preseason all-conference recognition. She emphasized the collective effort within her team that helped enable her individual success. 

Cai, who finished last season as the GNAC Freshman of the Year along with the title of Honorable Mention All-GNAC, was also just named GNAC Player of the Week on Monday, Nov. 6. Last year, she logged 74 assists, 29 steals, 11 blocks and an average of 14 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Cai attributed her accomplishments to diligent off-season work and the helpfulness of having “teammates who are eager to get better as well,” Cai added.

Hureta is also coming off an impressive season seeing that she was named to the All-GNAC First Team after posting 18.4 points per game, 97 assists and 29 steals last year. She also held the top shooting record for the Wildcats with 33% field goal accuracy, a 45.7% success rate for her three-point shots and 87.1% for her free throws. 

“Sunny does a lot for us and is so deserving of that award,” Cai said. “She has always been a great offensive threat and has stepped into a leadership position this year too which has been vital … She challenges everyone and helps hold people to a high standard.”

While each player has distinct strengths, their collective contributions have proven to be invaluable to their respective teams. Last season, McNeil’s statistics spoke for themselves with a dominant total of 59 three-pointers, 44 assists, 26 steals and an average of 15.6 points per game.

In the same season, Hector emerged as the team’s top returning rebounder, securing a notable amount of 6.1 boards per game.

“Rebounding is super important on both ends of the ball because offensively when you crash the glass, you have a chance to give the team an extra opportunity to score, which takes away the opposing team’s chances of scoring,” Hector explained. Hector also averaged 11.7 points per game, maintained a 65.4% free-throw shooting rate and led his team with 31 blocks during the 2022-2023 season as well.

On the court, teamwork is a fundamental aspect of success as both male athletes pointed out. Their team has been working on building chemistry, understanding their individual roles, and striving to make each other better.

“All it takes is one out of the five to have a breakdown in the offensive or defensive side of the ball, and that could cost us the game,” Hector said.

As for individual and team goals for the season, Hector’s sights are set high. “The biggest individual goal I can give you is that I want to be GNAC player of the year and an All-American come March,” Hector stated.

Hector dedicated his offseason to refining his shooting skills, maintaining his physical condition and prioritizing injury prevention. Meanwhile, the team has set its sights on capturing the GNAC tournament championship and securing the conference title.

Cai’s goals align with these objectives as she also aims to be named GNAC player of the year and contribute to her team’s pursuit of a conference championship. 

“Coming off a season where we were so successful, I want to keep that momentum and make it as far as possible with this team,” Cai said. “We have a lot of work to do but we are all determined and goal driven [so] I’m excited to see how well we do this season.”

In addition to these competitive ambitions, McNeil has a strong desire to leave a lasting legacy in his senior year. 

“We have a lot of young guys who I believe have bright futures. I wish nothing but to be able to help set them off on the right path,” McNeil shared. For him, securing a conference championship is not just about personal glory; it’s a way to inspire and guide his team.

The women’s team’s most recent tournament took place last weekend during the Conference Comissioner’s Association Division II Canadian Tip-Off Classic in Langley, British Columbia. The Wildcats secured the win in their final game of the weekend against the University of Texas at Tyler Patriots with a score of 64-61.

Their upcoming game will take place on Friday, Nov. 10 at Ed & Bertha Fitzpatrick Arena in Hayward, California where they will take on the California State University East Bay Pioneers at 5:00 p.m. PST.

Similarly, the men’s team obtained success in their latest exhibition match last weekend. The Wildcats battled against the Lincoln University Lions, who are coached by Seattle SuperSonics legend Gary Payton, and the final score was 94-64. Looking ahead, they are also set to play on the West Coast this Friday, Nov. 10 at 1:00 p.m. PST. This game will take place at Coussoulis Arena in San Bernardino, California where the men will face the California State University Monterey Bay Sea Otters.

McNeil shed light on their preparations for the upcoming games, emphasizing the importance of uniformity. 

“For these upcoming games, our focus has been on consistency. Consistency of [our] effort as well as consistency of focus,” McNeil said. “These are things that will need to be present down the stretch of our games.”

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