Women's basketball: CMCC junior Destiny Mora Lopez celebrates tremendous personal growth entering finals

Mar. 9—As a first-generation college student, Destiny Mora Lopez made history by attending Central Maine Community College.

She's also the only basketball player in her family and has excelled in her three years with the Mustangs.

"Specifically, this year, she has a very strong physical post presence for us and despite her size opposition, she can actually get up and down the floor incredibly well," CMCC coach Andrew Morong said. "So we can hit her for rim runs, and she can finish in transition. Defensively, she cleans up a lot of stuff for us as well, not just getting defensive rebounds, but contesting shots and doing so without fouling. I think that's been a tremendous evolution in her game."

On Saturday, Mora Lopez was named a USCAA Honorable Mention All-American. She also earned Yankee Small College Conference (YSCC) second-team recognition.

The junior said she started playing in eighth grade and then played on the varsity team all four years of high school in her hometown, The Dalles, Oregon. Then she was recruited to CMCC by Morong.

"He found me on a recruiting app called Field Level and had reached out, and he had a couple of the girls who were already recruited reach out to me," Mora Lopez said. "I liked the program. I like him as a coach, and one of my dreams as a person is to travel, so I wanted to go all the way across to the East Coast (for college)."

This season, the junior has averaged 9.8 points per game while starting 25 of the 26 Mustangs' games. Mora Lopez also averages an impressive seven rebounds a game, but says she does not pay attention to her individual statistics.

"If my team is winning, then I'm winning," Mora Lopez said. "It doesn't really matter, and I know that might be like, super cliche, but that's the truth of it. Everyone's going to remember if we won a championship title. No one's going to remember that I scored that many points that game or that many rebounds that game, like that doesn't matter to me."

Morong said Mora Lopez is "the best post player in the YSCC this year," and highlighted her performance last weekend, when she recorded a double-double of 16 points and 16 rebounds in the 59-52 win over UMaine Augusta for the YSCC Championship.

"I mean, that just really showcases her growth, and not just in that in that one game but over the course of three seasons, she has grown tremendously as a player, going from just being a rebounder to then being able to finish inside with both hands, hitting mid-range jump shots, and now being a very in-tune and impactful defender," Morong said.

Mora Lopez's on-court performance has only improved throughout her career. She did not play much her first year, according to Morong. In the 2021-2022 season, Mora Lopez played in every game, two of which she started, and averaged about 11.2 minutes a game. She also averaged 3.8 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Her sophomore season, 2022-2023, Mora Lopez played in 23 of the 29 games, and started in six. She averaged 13.1 minutes a game, 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds. This season as a junior, she's played in every game and started all but one, averaging 21.8 minutes a game, and ranks second highest on the team in points (9.8 a game) and rebounds (seven a game).

Mora Lopez credits Morong for her success on and off of the court, and she said he has given her the space to grow as a person and player.

"I haven't really had someone that's pushed me as much as my coach has, so it's really nice," Mora Lopez said. "Honestly, when you go through a lot of life experiences, especially on your own, and you're away from family, that makes you grow up quite a bit.

"Over the years, I've just become more independent, a better leader, better at communicating, better at just being my own person and becoming more of an adult and knowing what I want and like."

Morong said Mora Lopez joined the team right in the thick of the pandemic, and was a shy and timid freshman, as so many people are when they first arrive to college. He said she "didn't really know where she belonged, but was willing to take a risk and figure it out."

"She's now a confident woman, and just to see that happen in the last three years, I mean, to me, that's why I coach, that's why I do what I do," Morong said. "She is essentially a part of my family. My children and my wife, we love Destiny, and she's going to be one of those players, that 10 to 15 or 20 years from now will still have that strong connection and relationship with. She's just a hard working person and she's just a lot of fun to be around."

Morong said he's most proud of her commitment to her academics, as well as her confidence. Mora Lopez said after she wraps this year at CMCC, she's unsure where she will land next, but intends to finish earning her four-year degree, which, she said is her number one priority.

Her favorite memory at CMCC happened earlier this season, when Morong hopped in to play with the team at one of the practices, for a five-on-five scrimmage while the team was short on numbers.

"We were talking crap to each other, and like we're getting on each other, and it was just so much fun," Mora Lopez said. "I think a couple of the girls were sick and some of the girls had an injury and we didn't have enough players to like play five-v.-five. He hopped in and we were going through our zone offense, and it was super fun.

"I think that as a player, he pushes you. Even though you're going to have moments where you're not going to want to hear what he has to say, you're going listen to it."

The Mustangs are back in action on Monday in Petersburg, Virginia, when they will face Miami-Hamilton University (9-10) at 8 p.m. in a USCAA Division II Small College National Championship quarterfinal game.

"We're here to have fun, but it's not a vacation," Mora Lopez said. 'This is my third time doing this and I know what to expect. I'm hoping to leave my team with hopefully a successful trip, but obviously, we have to focus on one game at a time and I think the girls know that."

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