At the beginning of the basketball season, the men’s team had their work cut out for them with a reputation of success to uphold. The team added several promising new players, but got off to a 4-3 non-conference start. On paper, this team could demolish, but could they do so together?
“I think [Coach Logie] recognized early that it was going to be a challenge for us to get to know each other, gel and come together quickly,” said Wes Slajchert, graduate student and guard on the basketball team. “He’s done a really good job of not just the x’s and o’s and the basketball coaching but making sure we can merge together. That’s been the secret ingredient to our season. Coach Logie recognized that’s something we needed early.”
The team clicked at the beginning of the conference season, but little did they know the wins against Academy of Art and Dominican were just the beginning.
“I think [an undefeated conference season] would have been a really lofty goal to set at the beginning of the season because you always have a game here or there where you’re just kind of flat or where the ball is just not falling,” said Tobin Karlberg, graduate student and guard on the basketball team. “You’re always going to have games where you’re not at your best. I think what’s made our year special: We’ve just found ways to win those games.”
The team’s energy and connection ramped up as the season played out. They battled out wins against our rivals and second seed, APU. They persevered and came back from double digit deficits in games against teams like Biola. But history was made this season on Thursday, Feb. 23.
“We all as a collective group knew that we had a chance to win a championship, but I don’t think an undefeated season ever really comes into focus until right at the end when the opportunity is right in front of you,” Slajchert said.
Against Hawai`i Hilo in the Golden Gym, the Sea Lions clinched a win and made PacWest history with a 20-game sweep. The final score settled at 87-66. In addition to the undefeated streak and advancement to PacWest semi-finals, two weeks ago they also set a new PacWest record for 3-pointers made in a single contest (22) and became the first PacWest team to win 30-straight conference games, culminating into a season of setting records and breaking them.
“The special part of seeing this season come together has been the way our guys have bought into our core values as a program and exhibited them on a daily basis,” head coach Matt Logie said via email. “This team really trusts one another, they love each other, they are committed to the process of getting better, and they are willing to serve one another for the good of the team. No one cares who gets the credit, they just want to win.”
For fans and students, the energy at the home games has been palpable this season, according to Kyler Kroll, who is a member of the Hooligans (PLNU’s spirit squad). The success of this season led him to have a “good feeling” about the game on Thursday.
“There’s nothing better than going out there and cheering on our men’s team as they continue to DOMINATE the competition,” Kroll said via email. “I had a good feeling that we were going to win on Thursday just because of how electrifying they have been on the court lately.”
This winning streak hit a high at multiple points this season. The Chaminade game in particular is going down in history for players like Karlberg. The men’s team blasted Chaminade, scoring in the 100s during that game.
“I think there’s been a bunch of highlights so far– winning the PacWest, finishing conference 20-0 and the Chaminade game,” Karlberg said. “We were totally clicking and firing on all cylinders.”
Karlberg and Slajchert said that the success they’ve seen this season is the product of the coaching staff and maturity of their team. Coach Logie’s core values for the team center on trust, commitment, love and selflessness. And those are the things he said set this team apart.
“Our game is a beautiful game when played with those things in mind, which also serve as a great roadmap to success in any relationship or life in general,” Logie said via email. “So we just try to really live by those things as a program and highlight the ways those values come into play in various situations of life, school or sport.”
With the new players who joined PLNU this season– some undergrad, many in master’s programs with one year of eligibility left due to COVID-19– there were new opportunities to bring together a seasoned team with different backgrounds, according to Karlberg.
“Obviously, Kaden has been All-American multiple times and then you got a guy coming in like Shamrock who also got All-American at Carroll College,” Karlberg said. “Just the other guys around too, Luke Haupt and Brian Goracke, they’re just such great players even with a couple of years left to play. It’s just a really unselfish group that cares way more about this team success than any of our individual numbers or accolades. That’s really allowed us to be more successful than maybe what a lot of people would have thought at the beginning.”
Karlberg and Slajchert were new Sea Lions this season but didn’t need an introduction to the basketball court. Slajchert played during his undergrad for Dartmouth and Karlberg played for the University of Alaska Anchorage; both were seasoned players ready to gel with the existing standouts like Kaden Anderson.
“The reason I wanted to come to Point Loma is really because of the tradition that more recently began,” Karlberg said. “There’s a unique chance to win. It’s been shown that Point Loma can get to the national championship game. I wanted to put myself in the position where that could be a reality and play on one of the top teams in the nation.”
And while the competitive edge PLNU has achieved was the original reason, Karlberg said the connections he’s formed really reaffirmed his choice. Another strength Karlberg and Slajchert mentioned from their season was the sense of teamwork and humility.
Slajchert said that in the final moments of the Hawaii Hilo game, teamwork that transcended the individual was present for all of them.
“Everyone recognizes that when you have the chance to do something no one has done before, it’s really rare and cool to be a part of it,” Slajchert said. “In those final seconds, it all came into focus, and we all had a perspective of how cool that was and how rare it is.”
For students in the crowd, this moment was historic to witness, according to Kroll.
“In those final seconds, it really hit us that they pulled off an undefeated season,” Kroll said via email. “Everyone was excited, happy, and STOKED both for the team and to be a part of this with them.”
Breaking this record and cutting down the basketball nets to symbolize the success of the season demonstrate that the wins of the conference season are only the beginning for this team.
“I’d like to think the biggest highlight is still ahead of us,” Karlberg said. “Our head Coach Logie always tells us, ‘The best is yet to come.’ Our best days are ahead of us and we really believe that at this point.”
The PacWest Championship games will be held in Honolulu, Hawaii and run March 2-4. The Sea Lions are scheduled to play in the semifinals on March 3 against the winner of the quarterfinals game between Hawai`i Hilo and Biola. To watch the live video or keep up with the statistics, visit https://thepacwest.com/tournaments/?id=163. PLNU may also have the opportunity to host the NCAA Championships over spring break. March 10-11 are the first and second rounds of the West Regional, and the championship of the West Region will be Monday, March 13.