Now that Halloween is behind us there’s another orange and black to look forward to.
That’s right, the orange and black of a basketball falling majestically through the hoop as the La Verne men’s and women’s basketball teams gear up for the coming season.
Last season, the men’s basketball team had the dictionary definition of a mediocre season, finishing with a .500 record overall and in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. The team has a lot to do this season to prepare for its Nov. 18 season opener at home against the University of St. Paul (Minn.).
“We’re focusing more on small details,” head coach Gabe Duran said. “We got a little ahead of ourselves last year, so now we’re making sure we focus more on the little things.”
With the team graduating nine seniors, including last season’s starting five, this year’s Leopards squad is going to have to depend on a multitude of fresh faces.
“In terms of returners who contributed significant minutes last year, we only have one guy,” Duran said. “We’re probably going to rely on some freshman to deliver right away.”
However, Duran is yet to determine who will be counted on to contribute significantly.
“It’s still really early,” Duran said. “There’s so many new faces, so I don’t really know. We’ve got a lot of guys who haven’t had game experience.”
Due to his team’s current lack of an identity, Duran is pushing this Leopards squad hard in practice in order to allow them to learn how to play together and determine who can be relied upon once the season starts.
“We’re working on each other’s games right now,” senior transfer forward Juan Canas said. “We’re building on everything day by day, learning strengths and weaknesses.”
Though he makes it sound like there is reason to worry about his young team, Duran is confident due to one key fact regarding his SCIAC rivals.
“The conference as a whole is pretty young,” Duran said. “Cal Lu came on strong towards the end of last season as a young team, so there’s no reason we can’t.”
Another, more important, benefit the team will have is a full season with a real home advantage on the Frantz Athletic Court.
“We got our home court back,” sophomore guard Brendan Hallinan said. “This helps give us a big mental advantage.”
The team is not concerned with preparing for St. Thomas just yet; they have plenty of their own issues on the agenda first.
“Right now we’re just focusing on the general philosophy,” Duran said. “We won’t talk specifically about St. Thomas until the Monday prior to the game.”
While the women’s team fared better in SCIAC play with a 9-5 record, they were worse overall with a 12-13 record.
“Last season was last season,” junior guard Lindsey Shiomi said. “We’re ready to go this year.”
Head coach Julie Kline echoed that sentiment when talking about the state of her current team.
“We hope with the experience of our returners combined with our freshman and transfers that we will be more competitive this year,” Kline said. “Time will tell.”
Kline said junior guards Shiomi and Marissa Raya have stood out as leaders for this team so far.
“We communicate well with everyone,” Raya said.
According to Shiomi, some new faces to watch will be junior transfer forwards Leslie Elrod and Charleen “Sharkey” Guerrerro, as well as freshman forward Emily Carrillo.
“‘Sharkey’ can jump out of the gym, she’s quick and she can block shots,” Shiomi said. “Leslie moves well without the ball, and Emily is young and extremely athletic.”
If you are looking for a competitive team, you have found one.
“I believe we are solid in each position and we have depth in each position,” Kline said.
With their season opener on Nov. 17 against Pacific Union, there is still some team-building work for them to accomplish.
“Right now we are not really preparing for one specific opponent,” Kline said. “We are in the middle of implementing our offensive and defensive systems.”
As far as their SCIAC opponents, neither the coach nor the players seemed too concerned about them.
“We will take it one game at a time as we have done in the past,” Kline said. “We will show up and work hard. The rest will take care of itself.”
Kevin Zeni can be reached at email@example.com.