Kingsmen and Regals basketball teams prepare for season ahead

Ysabella Gonzalez, Reporter

As California Lutheran University’s basketball season approaches, both the men’s and women’s teams have begun practices for their upcoming games, and the coaches are aiming to swiftly transition into the new season. 

“I think they’re good, I like them. How are they playing? I mean, they’re learning, they’re figuring things out. I like the effort, I like what we’re doing. We’re getting better, that’s what we all want as coaches,” Men’s Head Basketball Coach Russell White said. 

Aside from the general transition, the coaching staff is also trying to avoid setbacks, such as injuries and sickness. 

“I’m always worried about injuries and staying healthy and COVID ‘cause last year we had a tough time, but, no, I think this team is pretty hearty and tough so I think they’ll get through those injuries and mentally I think they’ll stay tough,”  Women’s Head Basketball Coach Kelli DiMuro said. 

Coaches aren’t the only ones looking into the new season with concerns, as key players from the men’s team have graduated. However, players on both teams are more hopeful than anxious. 

“We’ve been changing a lot. With losing our seniors, we lose a couple guys that average about…20 points each, and then we lost another captain so we’re just really trying to revamp our culture and changing it from being a great scoring team, ‘cause we know we can do that, but to also bring a great defensive team as well,” senior center Miles Houston said. 

Having had a few practices now, the new players on the Regals basketball team are getting a better understanding of the plays and returning players are taking on more of a guidance role. 

“I’m really excited for this season. We have a lot of new talent and I feel like our chemistry this year is really good. Obviously, it’s still early, we’re only in our third week…of practice now, so we’re working on a lot, but the competitiveness in practice has been really good and we’re making each other better. We have a lot of hard workers and high achievers so I have a lot of hope that we’re going to go far this season,” junior forward Naomi Gipson said. 

One of the players taking on this mentoring role is senior point guard Ashley Sahnazoglu.

“Well, coming in as a senior, taking on that captain/leader role a little bit more seriously, trying to be that person that everyone can come to on and off the court, making sure everyone is held accountable, ‘cause I think that’ll lead to a successful year for us,” Sahnazoglu said. 

With the season approaching quickly, the coaches are keeping conscious of the players the team has lost and making sure that the current team is prepared in every aspect.

“Last year we lost two all-conference players. They graduated, so we got to figure out how to replace them, but we got a good core coming back and I think we expect to be very competitive, but you just never know,” White said. “So we’re very, very optimistic, but also understand that it’s a very good league and things can happen that make things harder so we gotta be ready for all challenges that come our way—physically, mentally, things we control, things we don’t control, we gotta be ready for it all. But we’re excited about the potential for sure.”

The Kingsmen haven’t been deterred by the difficult practices and, while they were only able to begin official practices Oct. 15, as per the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s guidelines, they have made the most out of their preseason.

“It’s been a grind, honestly, but it’s something that, being a senior, is kind of what I’m used to. But it’s what I love ‘cause the best part about getting back into the season is just seeing all the guys coming back together and be able to get workouts in,” Houston said. “So it’s been a grind but it’s been fun.” 

The Regals have also been putting in the work during practices as they try not only to focus on the game, but also on each other by building a sense of togetherness on and off the court. 

“I mean, with any season, I think sometimes there’s the lows, there’s the highs, but I think what’s important is during those lows to stick together and get through it together ‘cause we win and lose as a team. So I’m sure, I mean it’s not always going to be great all the time, but if we can stick together, then we can get through those lows and appreciate the highs even more,” Sahnazoglu said. 

Moving forward, the coaches are trying to remain mindful of the upcoming games against stiff competition. 

“Well, our league is very good so all of the teams on our league are competitive. Pomona-Pitzer is already ranked in the top 15 in the country so we know they’re gonna be good, we know there’s other teams that are gonna be really, really good. So I don’t think there’s anyone in particular that concerns me or us, but they all do,” White said. 

The Kingsmen’s practices have been predominantly focused on training their first-years and sharpening returning players on the court. 

“Other than new guys, for the most part, everything’s the same, but we’re teaching guys new things and trying to get better as the returners are trying to get better at what we were doing last year and just being more experienced and more mature on the basketball court and seeing what we can do,” senior forward and shooting guard Logan McCullough said. 

White’s efforts to prepare the Kingsmen for the season haven’t gone unnoticed by players and were highlighted by Houston. 

“With the work that we’re putting in and what we’re doing every day in practice, Coach is really just, is helping us propel to get there,” Houston said. 

As the Kingsmen continue to work and practice, White is confident of the team’s odds to make the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, despite the season having still not gone underway.

“I think the goal every year is to make the SCIAC tournament, which means we’re top 4 in the league and we have a chance. I think we have a chance, we had a chance last year, so I think we have a chance, but that’s the end of February,” White said. “You know, here we are, early November so that’s almost three months away from knowing if we’re there or not. A lot of things–a lot of times you can do better.”

On top of practicing in the gym, the Kingsmen have also been training on their own time to brush up on their skills. 

“I’ve been preparing all summer. I’ve been putting in the work, on and off the floor, mentally and physically and, since we’re in the beginning of season, I just put in extra shots afterwards and try to keep the guys positive,” McCullough said.

The Kingsmen are hoping to bring home wins to Cal Lutheran. McCullough said he thinks if the team comes together, does the right things, listens to the coaching staff and stays positive, good things will come. 

Aside from practice and training, the Regals have also been working on their communication and chemistry with one another. 

“I’m trying to make things lighter, airier, trying to get them to care about each other more than anything and build relationships and I think that will respond better on the court with chemistry,” DiMuro said. 

The biggest concern for the Regals going into the season is the lack of experience on their side, but they recognize that it is something they can tackle.

“Only, maybe because we have a lot of young girls on the team, just that experience, but even so far, I feel like we all have a lot of respect for each other and we work well together, so I think we’ll be able to work through it just fine,” Gipson said. 

Cal Lutheran’s Regals are coming into the season with a sense of optimism, as Gipson continues to find her form following injury.  

“I’m coming in with a lot more confidence. Last season was my first season back from an ACL injury so I’ve really been trying to push myself to kind of get back to how I used to play, so running the floor, driving, looking for my shot, being confident in those moves I’m making,” Gipson said. “And also coming in with a positive attitude, you know, I’m an upperclassman and I’m just trying to like step into that leadership role and set a good example and give everyone positive affirmations, you know.”

The Regals are ready to take on the new season, and Sahnazoglu said chemistry among team members is high as they are well bonded. 

“I’m really optimistic, I think we have a really good group of girls…I’m excited to get started, I think it’s gonna go really well,” Sahnazoglu said. 

The Regals’ coach also believes that they are SCIAC bound. 

“I think we have a really good chance, we gotta stay together and we gotta stay healthy, but I definitely think we have a chance to make it into the SCIAC playoffs,” DiMuro said.

The Cal Lutheran basketball season began in November and will stretch into the spring.