There is no label for Taylor Wu, the player, but one: winner.
As Cal Baptist enters a weekend trip to play Seattle, perfection is on the line. The Lancers are 20-0, 12-0 in the Western Athletic Conference and a league title in hand. This comes after a 16-15 mark and runner-up finish in league play in 2019-20. Wu, the 2018 ‘Iolani graduate and Star-Advertiser All-State selection, has been a key part of the rotation.
The 5-foot-7 sophomore is averaging 9.2 points per game in a role that is more about distribution and defense than scoring. Wu knows that role well enough. As a freshman, she poured in 37 points against Ottawa (Ariz.). As a high school junior, she stepped up with 18 points in an elimination battle with Kamehameha with a state-tournament berth at stake.
A year later, in the state final as a senior, Wu scored 19 points with no turnovers in a 52-49 thriller against Kamehameha for the 2019 title.
“That has to be one of the best memories of my life,” said Wu, who plans to major in Business Finance.
She adapted, though, to what her team has needed this season.
“My role is definitely my speed and quickness. I’m the fastest on my college team. I also have the ability to handle the ball and use my good vision to get the ball to other players. I can shoot and drive by players when I need to,” she said.
Four Lancers — Caitlyn Harper, Britney Thomas, Ane Olaeta and Nicole Avila-Ambrosi — average between 13.7 and 10.9 points per game. Wu is third in steals (1.2) while playing 23 minutes per contest, which is also third on the squad.
The voyage to CBU began in the 2018-19 season began with a visit to Cal Baptist. Wu missed a weekend of preseason play and returned with optimism about the future.
“I don’t remember exactly when they called me, but after I visited they told me that they were going to keep in contact. I knew that I was going to go to a couple more (club) tournaments on the mainland. They watched me and they called me at school and offered me a scholarship. I was shocked. I remember crying in the middle of school. The first thing I did was call my dad (Mike),” she recalled.
CBU’s move from D-II — as a powerhouse in the PacWest Conference — to D-I was crucial for Wu.
“I wasn’t there for the transition from D-II to D-I so it felt regular to me. D-I definitely was a factor. I wanted to help my dad out. I have a lot of siblings, there’s four of us, and he’s paying for our tuitions, all private school,” she said.
The Lancers don’t have a player taller than 6 feet on their roster. They make up for it with cohesion and commitment. Five days a week, they are in the weight room by 6 a.m. for strength training and maintenance.
“I definitely think it’s a huge thing for us especially in college so we can maintain our strength throughout the season and prevent injuries,” Wu said. “We work out for about an hour. Our strength coach has us do specific things. He asks how we’re doing on certain body parts like knees. Strengthening our muscles in those areas for 30 minutes, and stretching. He calls it mobility work.”
Wu was a fierce athlete in high school, but she has become lighter as she has gained strength.
“One of the biggest differences was going from no weights to weights every day. It’s actually, I don’t understand what happened, but I weighed 130 in high school, but in college now I weigh 120. And I’m stronger,” she said.
College life has required some wise time management.
“I definitely try to eat three meals a day with snacks in between. My sleeping, I always try to sleep for nine hours or more. I have a routine,” Wu said. “We have (early) morning practices, so I try to rest and get good meals. I try to set myself up for success. At home, I always tried to sleep early, but my dad always said, ‘Don’t you have tests to study for? Go work out.’”
It has worked out. Cal Baptist, located in Riverside, has done the unimaginable by winning its 20 games so far. Nobody predicted it, but Wu knew it would be a great season.
“Honestly, we knew we would have a good team, but nobody predicted us to go undefeated thus far. But also, I can say I’m not surprised with the players we have. We have a real talented team with the starting five and people coming off the bench,” Wu said.
Because of the extenuating circumstances caused by the pandemic, 2021-22 could be greater.
“We have three seniors. It’s crazy, but with our extra year of eligibility, we could have the whole, same, exact team back. A lot of our seniors are International, so from their point of view, they get this extra opportunity to play college basketball in America, so most of them are taking it,” she said.
It begins at the top with Coach Jarrod Olson.
“He says a lot of things to us,” Wu said. “A lot of speeches, but what stuck in my head is, ‘Control what you can control. You can’t control what anyone else does. Focus on you and do you.’”
As for superstitions among those on an unbeaten team, Wu hasn’t seen anything major. Her personal routine isn’t superstition as much as it is ritual.
“I’m not sure about other people, but for me I have to shower before my game. I have to wear certain compressions and socks,” she said.
With or without a pandemic, the Cal Baptist Lancers are limited to regular season play. Because the NCAA rules prohibit a team from competing for a national title in its first four years of D-I, the Lancers will have to be content with everything before the big dance.
The protocols of this season have hit home, too.
“Our season has been good because most of our games didn’t get cancelled,” Wu said. “Before we played San Diego, I had an inconclusive test result for COVID-19. I tested again on game day. I was negative. We played half the game, and someone told us we couldn’t play because I needed to test negative twice.”
That was a long drive back to Riverside.
“We were also supposed to play Oregon, but they had to play conference games,” she said, referring to the flexible schedules all teams have learned to embrace.
CBU trounced UC Irvine, 72-55, at Irvine early in the season, and then won at San Diego State, 75-71. More big wins on the road followed at UC Santa Barbara, 85-75, and Pepperdine, 75-67. The Lancers have also beaten crosstown rival UC Riverside, 67-58. Though none of these foes are ranked nationally, a 20-0 record would likely garner more attention in a normal year.
“The big thing for us is getting our name to be known,” Wu said.
Cal Baptist is No. 88 in the NCAA’s “Net Rankings,” which may seem underwhelming to Top 25 devotees. However, CBU is nudged between No. 87 Bradley (11-11) and No. 89 Penn State (9-13). The Lancers are rated ahead of these familiar names: Arizona State, Kansas, TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas State, UNLV, Utah, Auburn, the aforementioned San Diego, Pitt, Purdue, Minnesota, St. John’s, Wisconsin, Long Beach State, Vanderbilt and more.
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “The Good Doctor” (Hulu).
“There’s a guy, the main character has autism. Basically, no one believes in him or accepts him for who he is. He’s very straight up and confident in himself. He has a reason for what he does and he goes through with it no matter who tries to stop him. He never gives up.”
2. “Grey’s Anatomy” (Netflix)
“I just always had a weird liking to surgeries. I used to watch YouTube and people performing surgeries. The discovery of it, the drama in the hospital.”
3. “Crazy Rich Asians”
“I was crying at the end of the movie. It was a good movie and it has a happy ending.”
Top 3 food/snack/drink
1. Genki Sushi (Kapahulu).
“I order the spicy ahi tempura roll. Two orders. Then I order tamago. Potato/vegetable croquette. Agedashi tofu. It’s like tofu cut into cubes and fried with a golden brown sauce.”
2. Pasta, homemade by dad.
“Red sauce. What makes his different from everyone’s is he adds sugar in it. I also eat it up here in college every day. People think I’m weird for adding sugar. People here think I’m weird for washing my rice. Yes, in Hawaii, we do wash our rice.”
3. Green tea ice cream, Tanaka of Tokyo.
“It definitely is way different from all the other green tea ice creams I’ve had. It’s just the flavor, it’s a different flavor. I want to say it’s from Dave’s or Bubbie’s, but I’m not sure.”
Top 3 music artists
1. Justin Bieber – “Baby”
2. Ella Erye – “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”
3. Sam Smith – “How Will I Know”
New life skill
“I manage my time better.”
“I would say Coach Cy (Ota) and Coach Dean (Young). My mom (Brenda) and my dad. My college coaches, Jarrod Olson.”