Warriors’ schedule released, tonight’s home opener canceled due to COVID-19
It is returning a number of standout players from last season’s highly successful team, but for the Westmont men’s basketball team and its first-year head coach Landon Boucher, they are looking for a new identity.
It helps that Boucher, a former head coach at San Marcos High, is entering his first season — taking over for longtime coach John Moore.
“That’s been our thing, how do we make this year feel new and not repetitive?” Boucher said. “I think the guys have found newness in the practices we’ve had. If we can continue to make it feel like it’s different and not the same thing, I think we can stay out of complacency.”
The daily mentality and approach is something Boucher stresses.
“We go to practice every single day and try to replicate the atmosphere, the effort, the focus and the mentality that you would if you’re playing in a national championship game,” he said. “I think that we’ve made a discussion of, ‘Hey, if we show up and treat every day like it’s an NBA Game 7 or a national title game, that will flow results.’ We haven’t talked about end goals. We’re taking it one day at a time and I think it’s a good year to do that.”
This year’s team motto is “all-in.”
“That’s a motto that Jordan Spaschak and the team came up with last year,” Boucher said. “All-in is just saying, ‘You’re all-in for the team. The team comes first and you’re putting your team before yourself. The team’s success is the most important.’”
Boucher has been impressed with his team’s ability to stay “all-in” despite the uncertainty surrounding the team’s 2020-21 schedule and potential to complete a full season.
“I’ve been really impressed with our team being mentally and physically zoned in in practice when we don’t quite know what the year will look like,” Boucher said. “We have a few games on the schedule, but we’re still waiting on the NAIA to make decisions. You would think that would dictate focus and effort in practice, but it hasn’t.
“Maybe that’s because we went like eight months without playing basketball. That could be it, but I think that these guys are doing a good job of finding newness in today and feeling like it’s a gift to be on the court, even if it’s just five-on-five in practice playing against your own team. I think it’s been awesome. We have a veteran crew on our team and I think we’re only going to get older and more veteran-like in the year to come.”
The Warriors’ current veteran crew gained valuable experience in 2019-20, when Westmont won its first Golden State Athletic Conference regular season championship since 2012-13 and earned the second seed in the Liston Bracket of the NAIA National Tournament before it was ultimately canceled due to COVID-19. Finishing first last season, however, doesn’t translate to this season’s preseason GSAC poll.
Despite winning the conference title and finishing last year ranked seventh in the final NAIA Coaches’ Poll, the Warriors find themselves picked to finish third in the conference in 2020-21 and are only receiving votes in the NAIA Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
Boucher said initially missing out on the top-25 could actually help his team, much as it did last year, when Westmont was picked to finish sixth in the GSAC and was not featured in the top-25 national rankings going into the season.
“I think we’re still being overlooked, which is adding motivation for us as well,” Boucher said. “I don’t talk about it with the players at all because they’re old enough and they’re wise enough as players and humans, to take offense to that and use that as motivation.
“We also know that the first ranking is always subjective and not objective. It’s based on opinions and not performance, so frankly I don’t really care what happens in the first poll, but it definitely is there and we feel it. We’re not taking a ton of stock in it, but we’re trying to use it for a good. I think that we’ve done that so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead and hopefully we will be able to play some of those teams in the top-25.”
The team not only returns four starters from a season ago, but also players who averaged double figures in scoring. Seniors Abram Carrasco (18.9 points per game) and Hunter Sipe (11.4 ppg) will be joined by junior Cade Roth (10.5 ppg) and sophomore Jared Brown (11.3 ppg). Carrasco, the reigning GSAC Player of the Year and an NAIA First Team All-American, led the Warriors last year in scoring and assists (4.8 assists per game), while also averaging 4.1 rebounds per game. Heading into the 2020-21 season, Carrasco was selected as a Preseason All-American by Basketball Times.
Sipe also ranked third on the team last year in scoring, rebounding (5.7 per game) and steals (41).
Roth, who missed nine games last season due to injury, still finished second on the team in rebounding (6.2 rpg) and assists (3.5 apg), while also shooting 50% from 3-point range. Brown started every single game last season and led the team in steals (44) as a freshman.
The Warriors return six other players — seniors Gyse Hulsebosch and Tristan Lloyd, juniors Tyler Austin and Josiah Esselstrom, and sophomores Noah Fernando and Solomon Davis — who contributed significantly to last season’s success.
The Warriors were set to open the season tonight against Saint Katherine, though the game was postponed on Friday after a Saint Katherine player tested positive for COVID-19. The two teams are hoping to reschedule the game at some point in the near future. Saint Katherine was unable to play its scheduled game against Vanguard on Wednesday due to a positive test result.
There are only three other games currently scheduled for certain on Westmont’s schedule – away games against NCAA Division I opponents Cal State Northridge (Nov. 25) and Pacific (Dec. 4), as well as a home game on Dec. 12 vs. Antelope Valley. The Warriors are awaiting on decisions to be made at both the national and conference levels before filling out the rest of their schedule.
In filling out its schedule, Westmont will only play against teams who will be testing for COVID-19 prior to all athletic contests.
Westmont, who is ranked third in the NAIA by Basketball Times, will look to extend its program-record streak of six-straight national tournament appearances. The Warriors will also hope to win the GSAC regular season title for a second-straight year for the first time in program history.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, no fans will be admitted to games until further notice.