THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — When it comes to playing sports, all athletes have different reasons as to why they play. The biggest and probably most important is because the love they have for it. For Cal Lutheran women's basketball student-athletes, seniors Nayiri Aslanian and Kiana Gray, there's more to it.
The duo started playing basketball at different times, but their love of the game, the drive to play at their best and get the most out of their teammates, is exactly the same. Aslanian began playing in middle school, Gray started earlier at five years old, but both knew they wanted to play basketball at the collegiate level.
Aslanina went the junior transfer route, and played at Canyons of the College for two years. She then received a scholarship at Division II, Texas A&M International. She was injured one year, and played another, which gave her one more year of eligibility. She chose Cal Lutheran for her last and final year of collegiate basketball.
"I humbling came to Coach Lindsay (Samaniego) and she took me in with open arms," said Aslanian. "I'm forever grateful to her for doing that. This became my new home and I really love the school and this program."
Gray's biggest decision for which school she wanted to go to was it had to be close to family and it had to have a balance of school and basketball.
"At the beginning of high school, I knew I wanted to play at the collegiate level," said Gray. "I knew I'd miss the competitiveness. I couldn't stop. CLU was the perfect place."
Now being at Cal Lutheran, the duo can't imagine being any place else. As with any team, seniors might be looked at for leadership. Aslanian and Gray each show a different way to lead the team. However, they both have the same thoughts when it comes to how they want their teammates to view them and the lasting impression they want to leave on the program.
Freshman forward Jessi Westering noticed this right away. Aslanian and Gray's leadership have helped shape the team and has made a lasting impression on the team.
"This isn't what I expected," said Westering. "This team isn't like any other. We've had no drama all season long. We all get along and love each other. It's amazing to come to a team like this.
"They (Kiana and Nayiri) have really helped out with this. Nayiri is one of the hardest workers I've ever played with and Kiana is one of the smartest basketball players."
At the games, you can see Aslanian yelling out on the court and talking in the huddles. She's always pumping up her teammates and trying to get them to always give it their all.
Gray shows her leadership another way. She's cool, calm and collected under pressure. She lets her actions do the talking. Even though their leadership is different, both strive to achieve the same thing, getting the best from their teammates.
All these words and actions have made a difference. Westering, has learned so much from both players. Aslanian and Gray have made an impact on her, off and on the court.
"Kiana gives so much support," said Westering. "I look up to her so much. She has helped me mentally. She always tells me something encouraging. She's so inspirational. I can't thank her enough for the things she says to me.
"Nayiri is one of the hardest workers I've seen. She's always working out. Always trying to get better. She never gets tired, and if she does, she doesn't show it. They both have their own way of leading and it has really helped me become a certain person and player."
With all the work they have put in, and how much they've learned from the sport of basketball, their teammates and coaches, it has helped them be prepared for life after graduation.
Gray is majoring in accounting, while Aslanian is getting her degree in biology. Both are ready for the next step of their lives, whether its playing professional basketball, or getting a job in their respective field.
They will play in their final home game Saturday at 2 p.m., on Senior Day, as the Regals host the Sagehens of Pomona-Pitzer at 4 p.m. in the Play4Kay match.
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Release by Ryan Jorgenson, Sports Information Director