A focus on fundamentals and precision has the women’s and men’s basketball teams on similar paths this year. With experienced players and a team well-balanced in skill and age, the men’s team aims to allow for a broader scope in play-making while the women’s relatively young team hopes for a positive bounce-back season.
It is a rebuilding year for the Occidental’s women’s basketball team. With seven sophomores, five first-years and one junior on the team, inexperience contrasts sharply with strong dedication and team chemistry. For the upcoming season, which started Oct. 15, game play will be aggressive, according to head coach Anahit Aladzhanyan, also known by her nickname, Heat.
The young team is developing rapidly after a disappointing 2-14 season last year, according to Aladzhanyan. Now, the more experienced players will be counted on to cultivate a collective sense of internal leadership for the new additions to the team after one star junior decided not to return this season.
“The power of this team in the upcoming season won’t be in one or two superstars,” Aladzhanyan said. “The strength is in knowing that we have to play as a team.”
Yet despite inexperience, the team does not lack confidence and raw energy. Aladzhanyan said to watch out for Ciara Byrne (sophomore), the explosively athletic center, and Erin Masumoto (junior), the most experienced player and, as some of her teammates call her, a “grandmotherly figure.” Two strong point guards bring complementary skills with Dru Ishibashi (sophomore), ball-handler extraordinaire and Midori McElwee (sophomore), whose aggressive game play and eye for attack stand out.
The season started this year by pushing UC Irvine, a Division I school, into overtime in an exhibition game.
“At UC Irvine, we were the better team, they have better players, but we understand who we are and we play together,” Aladzanyan said. “We use our minds and our team mentality to be competitive.”
Starting center Ciara Byrne used the words devoted, compassionate and energetic to describe her team this year. Individuals on the basketball team also emphasized the quality of friendships as the framework of their team.
“We all genuinely really like each other,” starting point guard Ishibashi said. “Especially the sophomores who started together.”
According to associate head coach Mike Wells, the men’s team has sights set on winning SCIAC’s. The coaching staff has implemented serious changes to in-game strategy, shifting from a dribble-drive motion to a more moderately-paced game play, they aim to create a situation in which they can open up scoring opportunities for offensive star Andrew Johnson (junior), who was named to the All-SCIAC second team last season.
“With the switch in coaching style, we’re trying to get out of this robotic gameplay and create space for mid-range jumpers,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to create more opportunities, a little more freedom to shoot, to pass, to read the defense.”
Other players to watch for will be combo guard Jay Miller (junior), point guard Kory Hamane (senior) and big man and defensive star Andrew Garrison (senior).
“Garrison has blossomed as the standout senior big man,” Wells said. “He rebounds like a maniac, he’s our best defender and most charismatic guy.”
Among the coaching additions this year is offensive coach Jim Hennacy. Players said that his coaching philosophy is heavily grounded in returning to fundamentals.
Both teams will be spending winter break on campus in mid season, taking only six days off to return home for Christmas and then coming back to an almost empty campus and a ferocious mid-season training program. They each aim to peak by late-January and early February, in time for SCIAC championships.
Despite a strong showing at the end of the first half, the men’s team was not able to gain steam against Caltech and lost by nine points (86-77) Saturday night. The women’s team also pushed to tie the score by the end of the third quarter, but a poor shooting night resulted in the first loss of the season (65-57) against UC Santa Cruz.