The Cal Poly men’s basketball team opens practice Saturday, and for the first time since head coach Joe Callero’s first season on campus in 2009, the Mustangs are without standout forward Chris Eversley.
Eversley was the Big West Conference Tournament MVP while leading Cal Poly to an improbable run to its first NCAA Tournament berth as a senior last season. He’s currently playing professionally in Malaysia, where he leads the second-place Westports Malaysia Dragons and ranks third in the ASEAN League with 19.8 points per game.
Eversely was a statistical monster for the Mustangs last year, leading the team in scoring (13.5 per game), rebounding (7.1) and steals (44) and ranking second on the team in made 3-pointers (42) and third in assists (55).
Eversley took 151 more field goals than his next closest teammate, but Callero did not seem concerned about statistics as the Mustangs prepare to tip off their first preseason practice Saturday at noon.
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“What I miss about Chris the most is Chris’s energy,” Callero said. “He brings a passion and an energy to the game that I think is critical.
“Someone’s going to shoot the basketball, someone’s going to rebound the basketball. Numbers can be replaced, but energy, passion, intensity, camaraderie — those buzz words — you look at our team and say who’s going to replace that part of it?”
The answer Callero gave was junior forward David Nwaba, who averaged 11.7 points per game last season shooting a team-leading 52.6 percent from the field, and sophomore point guard Ridge Shipley, who started only three games last year but hit the last-minute, game-winning 3-pointer that helped Cal Poly take the Big West Tournament title and the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
“Those guys both have a dedicated passion to what they’re doing, and they demonstrate it on the court,” Callero said. “They’re monstrous personalities on the court, and they wear some emotions on their sleeves. They’re probably the keys to the energy level on the team.”
Callero also said to expect senior leadership and toughness from wing players Michael Bolden and Maliik Love. Junior big men Brian Bennett and Joel Awich return to the starting lineup, and after fellow junior Zach Gordon was lost to an offseason knee injury, incoming freshman Aleks Abrams should be counted on for some immediate backup minutes.
Callero said junior shooting guard Reese Morgan, Cal Poly’s only Parade high school All-America honoree, is feeling better than he has at any other time in his college career. Limited by chronic knee injuries, Morgan is still a wild card.
“His track record’s not great, but his toughness is,” Callero said. “I won’t be surprised if we get 28 games out of him, and I don’t think anybody will be surprised if he does injure himself again. That’s the reality we all face with somebody who has three knee injuries in three years.”
Mustangs: We’re playing better this year
The Cal Poly women’s soccer team was 4-6-0 in nonconference matches last season before going on a roll in conference play and winning the Big West regular-season title with a 7-1-0 record.
This season, the Mustangs are 5-6-0 going into today’s Big West-opener at Long Beach State. Only this year, Cal Poly may be playing even better than last season.
“Our nonconference schedule this year was much more difficult than last year,” Mustangs head coach Alex Crozier said. “We’ve played three teams that are now ranked in the top 10 in Soccer America.
“We’re playing well. We’re maybe not getting the results we’ve wanted, but we’ve been getting better, and I feel with all the things we’ve had to go through these past four, five weeks, we’ve faced all the things that test you and responded well, and I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Last season, Cal Poly won four straight to open the season then dropped six in a row leading into conference play. The results have been more up and down this year, but the veterans on the team need only draw from experience to know how hot they can get.
After starting Big West play splitting the first two matches, the Mustangs ran off six straight victories to end the regular season.
Nonconference results “don’t really matter to us,” junior goalkeeper Alyssa Giannetti said. “We did some relay good things. We just have to have that in the back of our minds when we go into conference and knew we are a phenomenal team and have that confidence going in.”
Overcoming five-set fatigue
After a 3-2 loss at UC Santa Barbara last week and going into tonight’s Big West home-opener against UC Davis, the Cal Poly volleyball team has a mental hurdle to jump.
Two of the Mustangs’ five victories this season have been three game sweeps, but two of their six losses have been five-set losses where Cal Poly won the first two sets before the opponent came back for a marathon victory.
The latest example was the loss to the Gauchos, where the Mustangs won the first two sets 25-23 and 25-21. Cal Poly even led UC Santa Barbara 19-12 in the fourth set before the Gauchos stormed back to win.
In all, the Mustangs, whose team is half made up of true freshmen, have lost three five-set matches this season.
“It’s more the experience factor at the moment,” Cal Poly head coach Sam Crosson said. “We talked about that on Monday as a group after we revisited the Santa Barbara match.
“We’re still learning the lessons of what it means to be able to compete as long as that match requires us.
“Our group needs to learn that’s just the time for them to keep doing what they’re doing because what they’re doing was successful.”
Martin named Big West Golfer of the Month
Cal Poly sophomore Mitch Martin, an Arroyo Grande High graduate, was named Big West Golfer of the Month after a second-place finish in the Nick Watney Invitational this week.
Tying a career-low round of 68, Martin finished one stroke behind Watney Invitational champion Byron Meth of Pacific, who shot a three-round 206 on the par-72 Sunnyside Golf Course in Fresno.
It was Martin’s highest finish in a collegiate tournament. He placed 13th in the Saint Mary’s Invitational earlier in the month.