Playoff time is nearing for Point Loma Nazarene University basketball; one team is in the driver’s seat and one sits comfortably in fourth. The men’s team currently sits atop the PacWest conference at 15-6 overall and 10-3 in conference play. The women’s team is 12-9 overall and 8-5 in conference play.
The women’s team has played some of its strongest basketball as of late, including a win against Dominican, the 25th-ranked team in the country and second place in the conference. But the Sea Lions have had a roller-coaster season thus far. They lost four out of their first five games of the season — one of those was to D1 University of Arizona — then won five of their next six, then lost four of six and now they have won four straight.
Second-year kinesiology major and forward Maddie Mersch said she can pinpoint one reason why it’s been a bumpy season.
“We’re all really great individual players, and we all know how to play together, [but] a lot of the time it’s one person playing really well and the rest of us can’t play up to our level,” Mersch said.
The Sea Lions recently went on a trip to Hawaii in which they swept the three Hawaii teams in the conference, beating Hawaii Hilo 68-49, Hawaii Pacific 58-57 and Chaminade 91-61. Mersch said the trip was a needed boost of confidence.
“I feel like we went into it like, ‘We need to pick it up,’ since we had gone on a bit of a losing streak,” Mersch said. “We knew we had to sweep Hawaii, and Point Loma women’s basketball hadn’t done it in 15 years, so that was a bit of a motivator.”
Mersch feels as though this team can play with the best of them; it’s all about getting hot at the right time and executing. In general, she feels optimistic about where the team is at as they near the home stretch.
“I feel like we play our best in March,” Mersch said.
Meanwhile, the PLNU men’s basketball team has been at the top of the conference for the majority of the season. The roster this year has seven new players on the team as well as a new head coach, but PLNU has kept steady and remained consistent, never losing two games in a row since its second and third games of the season.
Despite the turnover from last year’s roster, third-year accounting major and guard Coby Barnes said there haven’t been any problems in the locker room or with the cohesiveness of the team.
“There haven’t been any issues all year. I feel like everyone on the team is super close and super comfortable with each other and that provokes positive results on the court,” Barnes said.
The men’s team also went on the aforementioned Hawaii trip, taking two out of three with each game going to overtime. Barnes said the gauntlet came at a good time for the squad, as it had just lost second-year standout point guard Jake Lifgren to injury.
“The Hawaii trip is a really hard trip because it’s the only time we play three games in a week. It’s a benefit to us because we needed to get a lot of experience without Jake, having new, elevated roles,” Barnes said.
The team has been without fourth-year star forward Luke Haupt, second-year forward Andrew Hommes and now will have to go the remainder of the season without Lifgren. Younger players, such as freshmen Tyce Paulsen and Luke Smith, have had to step up and play extended minutes. Transfers Zack Paulsen and Wynton Brown have been two of the team’s four leading scorers. Barnes looks forward to the future of this young program.
“The future for this program is really bright, and we’re only going to go up from here,” Barnes said. “[Coach] Downer’s building something that will last long beyond any player and beyond the time that he is here.”
PLNU men’s basketball looks to keep it rolling and clinch the No. 1 seed for tournament play.