Time For Tip Off: Basketball Season is Almost Upon Us

Ellie Turk dribbles down court. Photo credit to Evan Olbricht.

The weather may be cooling down, but Point Loma Nazarene University’s winter sports are heating up. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are ramping up their activity as they prepare for opening night on Nov. 10.

Head coach Charity Elliot and the Lady Sea Lions have hung around the .500 mark the past two seasons and will look to build on the consistent basketball they’ve been playing. This 2023-2024 squad will feature some exciting new faces, while also welcoming back some veteran Sea Lions.

According to Elliot, she — along with her assistant coaches — is excited about the team they’ve put together. From transfers to returning players, this team has meshed well and looks forward to kicking the season off.

PLNU standout Haylee Saurette won’t be on the floor for the Sea Lions this year after graduating in the spring, but Elliot noted how well the team has adjusted to losing Saurette and other seniors.

“I’m really proud of how Ellie Turk and Grace Moawad have come in this season setting the tone and expectation of how we do things in this program,” said Elliot. “They are doing a tremendous job of leading both on the court and in the locker room.”

Along with the senior duo of Turk and Moawad, there will be a trio of junior transfers joining the team this winter. Center Katie Scott and guards Tavia Rowell and Alyssa Munn will look to make an impact on the court while wearing green and gold for the first time. The women will savor their time on the court after having to sit out last season due to transfer rules.

This won’t be Rowell’s or Munn’s first time playing in Golden Gym, however. Both women come from fellow PacWest schools, Academy of the Art and Hawaii Pacific.

“We are very excited to have Tavia, Katie and Alyssa back on the court this season. They did a great job last year working hard in practice every day and cheering on their teammates from the bench,” said Elliot. “Now it’s their turn to get out there and make an impact on the floor.”

The final addition to the women’s squad this year is assistant coach Abigail Leaupepe-Tele. She comes from Texas A&M-Commerce, where she spent three years as an assistant coach for the Lions.

As for the men’s team, they’re only coming off of one of the most successful seasons in recent memory. The men went a historic 20-0 in PacWest play and 29-4 overall while throwing in a 25-game winning streak as the chef’s kiss.

Now under new coaching, and — like the women — with plenty of new faces on the team, the Sea Lions will look to make it back to the NCAA West Regional Championship. 

After a year as an assistant coach at PLNU, head coach Justin Downer heads the ship that is sailing back toward Regionals. Downer has also brought in some of his own trusted personnel: assistant coaches Daniel Dyck and Geoff McIntosh.

Additionally, former Division I hoopers forward Wynton Brown and center Matur Dhal will look to be pivotal players for the Sea Lions. The help down low is much needed for PLNU after one of the program’s best players, Kaden Anderson, departed after the 2022-2023 season.

Anderson was a three-time PacWest Player of the Year and is the all-time leading scorer in PacWest Conference history. While his presence will be missed, Brown and Dhal are equipped to step into this role, according to Downer.

Zack Paulsen, a junior hailing from Seattle Pacific University, adds to the group of experienced transfers who came to PLNU this fall. His younger brother Tyce Paulsen, a first-year student and the highest ranked recruit in program history, is one of PLNU’s three freshmen additions to the team.

According to Downer, the collection of new faces that he has recruited is already on the same page.

“Our new coaches align perfectly with the four pillars of our program: faith, love, discipline and sacrifice. What I’m most proud of thus far is that we’ve also brought in a team that aligns with those values and with our style of play,” said Downer. 

The Sea Lions once again have a busy schedule ahead of them, including a game against the NCAA National Championship Runner-up San Diego State University (SDSU) Aztecs. Downer and his squad are paying little mind to their matchup against Division I SDSU and other meetings with PacWest rivals. According to Downer, the ultimate goal is playing playoff basketball in March, and that’s going to require his team to focus on each individual game.

“We’re taking it one day at a time and trying to raise the bar every day, while comparing ourselves to no one,” said Downer. “As far as particular matchups, we aren’t ‘looking forward’ to anyone, just anxious for the opportunity to compete.”

With the regular season just a little over a week away, both the men and women will continue to raise the intensity in preparation for opening tip off. The women’s team a preseason exhibition game against Division I University of Arizona on Nov. 1.

According to both Elliot and Downer, they have teams salivating at the idea of lacing up and getting back on the court. Both the men’s and women’s teams will look to build on their past successes and continue honoring the school and community this winter.