When Landon Boucher took over as head basketball coach on May 8, 2020, Westmont’s campus had been vacated for nearly two months due to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than have the summer to settle into his new promotion, Boucher, like everyone else, spent the bulk of the summer indoors nowhere near a basketball court.
When students returned in the fall 2020, Boucher and company soon realized that year one of the new era was going to be nothing like the years preceding it.
“That was definitely not what we imagined,” Boucher said. “It was a bittersweet time because, of course, I was excited to start the job, but then we were immediately put on pause until further notice.
“A silver lining for us, though, was the fact that the core of our roster had stuck around in Santa Barbara and took that time to get better. I don’t think anyone took for granted a single time we were able to get on the court together.”
Fans will see how this season’s team does when it plays its first game at 5 tonight when the Warriors host the Bethesda Flames.
The club will play six games before GSAC play opens up, with five of the matchups taking place in Montecito.
The Warriors will largely start fresh this season, with only four of the 11 men from last season’s roster appearing on this year’s edition. Along with Cade Roth, Ajay Singh, Jared Brown, and Tyler Austin, 10 new players make up Westmont’s 14-man roster for the 2021-22 season.
“One of the great things about last season was the fact that our four returners got so many minutes on the court together,” said Boucher. “You can see how crucial that time was when we’re at practice and trying to teach a brand new offense to a lot of new guys. Our returners having that foundation of knowledge and experience is huge for us.
“For our new guys, obviously the off-the-court adjustment to Westmont coming from some big universities takes some time to set in. On the court though, I think we’re already gelling really well. We have a really unselfish group that wants to make each other better.”
At the top of the list for the club’s returners is All-GSAC senior guard Cade Roth, who led the club in total minutes last season. Roth was Westmont’s lone member of the All-GSAC team last season, after averaging 13.3 points per game with a 41.0% clip from three-point range.
“Cade Roth is our clear-cut captain,” Boucher said. “He’s our leader, and he’s been doing a really good job leading both on and off the court. He’s been involved in FCA, he’s leading a Bible study group on Thursdays, and he’s just really come into his own as a leader.”
Fortunately for Westmont, last year’s eligibility grant allows Ajay Singh to return to the club for an additional season after leading the club in scoring last year.
“Ajay is a really gifted scorer,” noted Boucher. “He spent this whole summer in Santa Barbara working on his game and we’re excited to see him back out there. Last year we played him out of position a bit at the five, and now he’s on the arc a little bit. Ajay is always going to be a dynamic scorer, but he’s grown as an all-around player and we’re going to need him to continue growing in that role.”
Also returning for the Warriors is guard Jared Brown, who enters his first year as an upperclassman with still three seasons of eligibility to his name.
“Jared dedicated his whole summer to training here as well,” said Boucher. “We’re going to play him a lot at point guard this year, instead of playing him at the two, and it’s nice to know we still have a lot of time to work with him.”
Cyrus Johnson transfers to Westmont from Sam Houston State, where he played three seasons for the Bearkats. The 6-5 forward also took a redshirt season, along with his COVID-year, so Johnson retains three years of eligibility coming into this season.
“Cyrus is so versatile defensively,” offered Boucher. “He can guard all positions and he’s just an easy guy to play with. He’s very unselfish and he does a lot of things that just don’t show up in the box score. It’s going to be tough to take him out of games.”
Another transfer is 6-7 wing Jalen Townsell, who comes to Westmont from Sacramento State. Townsell also has an additional three years of eligibility to his name.
“Jalen has gotten better every day since arriving on campus,” said Boucher. “It’s been a couple years since he’s played consistent basketball, and he has worked relentlessly to get back into game shape.”
Sebastian Reynoso transfers to Westmont from the College of Southern Idaho and is originally from Mexico. Growing up, Reynoso played on Mexico’s junior national team. Reynoso also has three years of eligibility.
“Sebastian had done a good job quickly fitting into the role we see him in,” explained Boucher. “We expect him to provide good defense, get consistent rebounds, and hit a lot of open shots.”
Freshman Nate Meithof comes to Westmont from Keizer, Ore., where the left-handed guard averaged 26 points per game as a senior. In both his junior and senior seasons at McNary High School, Meithof was a top-five scorer in the state.
“Nate is an electric scorer,” said Boucher. “He does not feel like a freshman out here. Nate has a great feel for the game with great instincts as well. Thinking about his ceiling is pretty exciting. I think he’ll be good this year of course, but especially down the road we think as he matures he has a chance to be special.”
“We’re excited to get going,” said Boucher. “We have a handful of guys in our lineup, like Cyrus and Jalen, who haven’t really gotten to play in a few years. (Tonight) will be the first time that they’ve seen game action in a long time. I think with that, plus dealing with COVID last season, the excitement and anticipation for our guys is pretty high.”
The Warriors will open GSAC play on Nov. 20, when they host No. 22 The Master’s in Murchison Gym. After taking on the Mustangs, the preseason No. 2 in the GSAC, the club then travels to Glendale to take on the conference’s preseason No. 1, the 7th-ranked Arizona Christian Firestorm.
“Master’s is bringing back almost the same exact team as last year, so we know it’s going to be a challenge right out of the gate,” noted Boucher. “In our six pre-GSAC games we obviously want to have success in the win-loss column, but it’s also about using those games to get prepared for conference.
“Right now our main hope is just to continue getting better every day. We’re going to face bumps in the road, whether that’s in the preseason or in conference, obstacles are inevitable. We know the GSAC is going to be super competitive, but I think if we just focus on what we can control that we can be playing our best basketball come February and March.”
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.