Landon Boucher knew the Westmont College coaching job would be tough when he took it last spring.
Although most of the Warriors’ seventh-ranked men’s basketball team would still be around in the fall, so would the coronavirus.
“When I got the job in May, I didn’t think we’d have a season at all,” said Boucher, a Westmont alum who succeeded John Moore as head coach.
The Warriors broke for the holidays with just one regular-season game and two exhibitions under their belts … plus several of their players taking ill with COVID-19. The contract tracing was easy. The University of Pacific had announced a positive test just hours after playing the Warriors in Stockton on Dec. 20.
“COVID really hit our team hard,” Boucher said. “Westmont does a phenomenal job of testing, but unfortunately one of Pacific’s players had it and spread it to us.
“Everybody got through it and are fine with very little symptoms. But not only have we been unable to play a game since then, we haven’t been able to do anything in quarantine, either.”
He’s hoping that’s soon to change. His players return to campus this weekend with plans to resume workouts on Jan. 21. Home games are scheduled for Jan. 26 against Saint Katherine and Jan. 27 against Bethesda.
“I really am thankful for these games to be happening and for our team to continue to improve and grow closer together to find our identity,” said Boucher, who served as an assistant coach last year. “Anything we can get, I feel thankful for.”
Westmont’s season opener of Nov. 14 was canceled when Saint Katherine received its own positive test for COVID-19. The Warriors’ next opportunity didn’t come for another 11 days — a 97-79 exhibition loss at Big West Conference member Cal State Northridge.
“I saw some good things in that game,” Boucher said. “The fact we scored nearly 80 points against a Division 1 team, playing for the first time against anybody other than ourselves, and without Cade (Roth) and Tristan (Lloyd), was very, very encouraging.”
The Warriors had their next two games canceled but got some extra court time when they opened their regular season on Dec. 11. They rallied from a five-point deficit in the final 1:30 before losing in double-overtime to Division 2 Concordia College, 101-99.
“We had the opportunity to just quit and throw in the towel so many times, but we didn’t,” Boucher said. “I’m hoping that game will help us down the road in the next month and a half.”
COVID-19 has created a strange scenario for the Golden State Athletic Conference when it opens play on Feb. 2: Westmont will play three games in a row against Hope International, and then three more against Vanguard. Those two schools, like Westmont, test for the coronavirus.
The league’s other six schools, none of which test, will play only each other.
“The winner of our pod gets an automatic berth for the NAIA Tournament,” Boucher said.
He likes his team’s chances with returning NAIA All-American Abram Carrasoco leading the way. The senior point guard averaged 18.9 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds last year. Senior Hunter Sipe (11.4 points), sophomore Jared Brown (11.3) and junior Cade Roth (10.5) are also returning starters.
“Everybody wants a chance to play this season,” Boucher said. “A lot of people are back from last year’s team which didn’t get to go to Kansas City because of the canceled tournament.
“But they not only want to play in the postseason, they want to be able to have a somewhat of a normal season.”