Patrick Burns, Staff Writer
The Saint Martin’s men’s basketball team playedin their second consecutive Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament hosted in Alaska. The men were the third seed in the 2018 Championships and took on Central Washington University (CWU) in the first round. The Saints finished off the last season beating CWU in Marcus Pavilion and had an undefeated record against the Wildcats for the season.
This season has been a remarkable one for the Saints. At the end of last season, which concluded with a disappointing loss to Western Washington University in the GNAC Tournament, the Saints lost almost all of their starting five, including a ton of key players. Those players included Tyler Copp, Fred Jorg, Brandon Kenilvort, Trey Ingram, and Cole Preston. With all of them gone, it was looking like the Saints might enter a rebuilding season.
Then stepped in the talents of Luke Chavez, E.J. Boyce, Matt Dahlen, Tavian Henderson, BJ Standley, and Jared Matthews. These new players, paired with Jordan Kitchen and Rhett Baerlocher, have created the most magical season for the Saints in a long time. This is the first time an SMU team has won 20+ games since the ‘08-’09 season, which was a team that defeated NCAA Division I opponent, Colorado State University.
These new Saints did not waste any time to make their marks on the SMU community as they started out the season 5-1 before conference play that included a strong victory on the road versus #7 California Baptist University. In that game, Matthews led the Saints with 19 points, Chavez had 17, and Dahlen had a double-double. These new faces made a big splash in the Division II basketball world and they had the GNAC in their sights. At one point in the season, the Saints had won eight in a row and finished off the season with a four-game win streak.
Chavez, the team’s leading scorer, attributes this team’s success to how all the players were able to come together, “We have a lot of guys coming from different schools and from different areas from just the past year. We were able to create a great bond with each other with only knowing each other for a short period of time and able to come together and create something special this season.”
Chavez says that winning the tournament has been the plan from the beginning, “By believing in each other and believing in the ultimate goal. We came together before the season and wrote out our goals and the championship was one of them. That’s why we work so hard. We are a persistent group of guys who will do anything to win. With that combination we feel like we have a chance to win every game we play in. Now it’s just about going up there and bringing back a banner. Why not us?”
Head Coach Alex Pribble was in his second GNAC tournament since taking over the team in the 14-15 season. He had prepared this team since he took over to be in this position. At home games, Pribble can be seen on the sideline acting more intense than any of his players, showing that he wants it just as bad if not more than they do. He has taken this program to the next level in his time at the helm and this year will hopefully be the year that the team reaches their goal.
The Saints took on CWU on Thursday, Mar. 1, and WWU on Friday, Mar. 2, winning both games. The Saints played Western Oregon in the championship game on Saturday, Mar. 3. The Saints also have a strong enough record that they could earn an at-large bid to the NCAA West Regional Tournament as they currently are the eighth ranked team in the West.