Lions' Ballestero NAIA Player of Year

Vanguard University senior Nicole Ballestero has been named NAIA Player of the Year in women's basketball.

The 5-foot-8 guard was joined on the 11-player All-American first team by senior teammate Taylor Belmont.

Ballestero averaged 23 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Lions, who were ranked No. 1 all season and won the Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season title.

Vanguard was upset in the second round of the NAIA Tournament to finish 27-2.

A two-time first-team All-American, Ballestero becomes the fifth Vanguard standout to be named National Player of the Year, joining former honorees Lisa Faulkner, Kelly Schmidt, Jessica Richter and Bridgette Reyes.

Ballestero, who had a school single-game record 53 points in a GSAC semifinal loss to Hope International, ranked second in the NAIA in scoring, seventh in free-throw percentage (.843), ninth in three-point percentage (.438) and 10th in three-point baskets per game (2.8).

Belmont, a 5-5 point guard, averaged 15.2 points, an NAIA-best 8.7 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game in a breakout season. Vanguard Coach Russ Davis said Belmont made the biggest improvement from one season to the next of any player he has coached in his 18 seasons.

Vanguard sophomore Samantha Doucette, who averaged 15.7 points and 4.4 rebinds as a 5-11 forward, received honorable mention.

— Barry Faulkner

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