By: Jonathan Fernandez CW
The Highlander Hoops Fest took place on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the Bell Tower and there was plenty of excitement in the air. The men’s and women’s basketball teams were seen early in the event dancing amongst themselves, as well as interacting with students and taking pictures. At approximately 12:30 p.m., both teams’ coaches, student managers and players walked on stage one-by-one. Both teams were introduced as they prepared for what they hope will be a great season.
The women’s basketball team is coming off of a historic season in which they went a perfect 16-0 in conference. However, Head Coach John Margaritis knows that every season is different and, in order to be successful this season, “the team needs to know that this is a new year and what they did last year is now a thing of the past.” Margaritis explained, “Our motto is ‘turn the page.’ We gotta be able to move on. I don’t think last season has anything to do with this season. I really don’t. I think the team’s going to be different, I think the competition’s going to be different. Everything is different so the more we think it’s a continuation of last year, the more surprised we’re going to be in a negative way.” The team is definitely going to look different from last year after losing four seniors who each played a huge role in their successful season a year ago. Most notable of these losses are all-time leading scorer and last year’s Big West Player of the Year, Brittany Crain and all-around playmaker Annelise Ito. Nonetheless, the same foundation is in place for the young team to follow. Margaritis has recruited the players in accordance to his philosophy and it’s going to be exciting to see what that team can accomplish this year.
On the men’s side, the team has the majority of the players from last year returning, which makes Head Coach Dennis Cutts excited to see what they can do. “I feel like our culture is set … so the odds are in our favor on how to do things, how we want it done, how we want to operate.” Cutts has imprinted a clear-cut culture on this team that multiple players seem to be buying into. Senior forward Secean Johnson said, “One thing we talk about is team unity, buying into one common goal, coming together and working together as a unit.” Cutts has also preached working hard every single practice and to never take plays off. That kind of work ethic is bound to make this team a gritty and scrappy one. “We need grit and glue. We think to be really successful we need grit and glue,” Cutts explained. This year, the team’s goal is crystal clear. They want to make it into the NCAA tournament and make some noise, something that every member of the organization believes they can accomplish. Johnson said, “We wanna (sic) play through March, get into the tournament, win a game, win one more game (and) get some momentum definitely going into the tournament.”