Peter Bond takes the reins of APU men's basketball

This article originally appeared on ZU News.

Peter Bond sits alone in an office built for two. Half of the office is vacant; an empty desk and bookshelf just beginning to gather dust. The room is too quiet, the atmosphere too raw.

Bond has just been named Azusa Pacific’s new men’s basketball head coach. This came just one day after previous head coach Justin Leslie announced his resignation.

Leslie served as head coach for 12 years and was a part of the program for a decade prior to that. He announced his resignation on April 23, assuming the head coaching position at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas later the same day.

Leslie expressed his gratitude for the APU community and athletics department, saying he made lifelong friends and unrivaled mentors in his 22 years here.

“Although I am very excited to begin this next step in my career, I know that the hardest part of this transition is saying goodbye to so many people that I love dearly,” Leslie said. “Azusa Pacific is an incredibly special place that is filled with amazing people.”

Leslie finished his APU coaching tenure with a 266-121 (.687) overall record. He led the Cougars to nine 20-win seasons and three NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, including a trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in the program’s first season of NCAA playoff eligibility.

Leslie’s departure came as a surprise to the APU community, including Bond.

“When I first found out, it was quite shocking. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting it,” Bond said.

“I’m going to miss him much more than just as my boss. I’m going to miss him as a friend. I’ve spent more time with him over the last 15 years than anybody else in my life. It is going to be a missing piece of almost half my life, but I know he’s going to do well and he’s doing what’s best for his family, which is really important.”

Bond met with his players soon after the announcement, doing what he could to be there for them.

“Within a team sport, there is a lot of talk about being selfless and doing what’s best for the team and what not … in this situation everybody’s first reaction is, ‘Oh man, how does this affect me?’ I told them that is totally normal. When guys came to me and were kind of shocked, that’s what I would lead with because I know it would make them let their guard down,” Bond said.

Bond empathized with the players because he has been in this situation before. In his junior year, former APU men’s basketball head coach Bill Odell resigned without warning, leaving Leslie to take over the program. Just over a decade later, history repeated itself, with Bond taking the reins this time around. However, Bond said he wasn’t sure if he would be selected.

“I didn’t know,” Bond said. “I knew that during my time here, I had represented myself well, I had represented the program well and we’ve done good things that I had a role in. But I didn’t want to assume that it was a given, that once he left I would take over.”

After the athletics department announced Bond as the new head coach, he said he received many congratulatory texts and calls. While he appreciated this, Bond said he told people that he still had a lot of work to do.

“I want to make sure that I do every step of that process well,” Bond said. “I was really intentional in that process to prepare, to plan, to still continue to do things well.”

Prior to being named head coach, Bond was the men’s basketball assistant coach and director of athletic development for 11 years. He was also a member of APU’s basketball team while he was a student from 2004-08.

Bond was humbled to be selected for the position.

“I felt honored because of how much APU means to myself and my family … in a way, I kind of grew up with APU being held up on a pedestal,” Bond said.

“To be able to take over a role like this, I just felt a lot of pride and honor in being chosen to do that, mixed with excitement and some nervousness. There was a whole array of feelings.”

Bond met his wife Erin Halma at APU. Halma was a star on the Cougars’ softball team. In addition, his two sons have both grown up as huge APU fans.

Bond is already making plans for how he will lead the Cougars next year. Last season, the Cougars finished third in the PacWest Conference with a 20-11 overall record, falling to Point Loma in the PacWest tournament semifinal. Bond looks to take the team deeper into the postseason behind the strength of six returning seniors.

“I anticipate our upperclassmen having a huge impact,” Bond said. “I think having guys who are not only seniors but have been in the program for a long time, they know they’ve got an opportunity to do some very cool, very unique things in a basketball career. You only get a college basketball experience one time. I feel like guys are really embracing that and know this is their last shot to make something special happen.”

Bond said the top trait that will elevate the squad to the next level is teamwork.

“A really good team cares about one another. They want to perform and hold themselves to a high standard for the guy next to them,” Bond said. “Everybody wants to perform well as an individual because we’re competitive and that’s what we desire, but when there’s a care for one another that runs deep, it takes everybody’s level up because they’re holding each other to a higher standard.”

The team will also bring in three freshmen and one transfer. He is excited about each of them, from their physical traits to how hard they play. His face lit up when he described what each new player brings to the team.

“I have high expectations for the team, but a lot of that comes down to that I know what they’re capable of,” Bond said.

Bond said his squad for next year might have more talent than APU’s 2014-15 team, which went to the Elite Eight. However, he said that team had an extremely high basketball IQ and this team will have to work a lot on that in order to go deep into the postseason.

In order for the team to do that, Bond said the work begins now. While the team will not practice together over the summer, due to NCAA rules, Bond met with each player and discussed their workout plans for the offseason.

“The four month summer gives them a good chance to grow as players, to grow physically,” Bond said. “I want the players to have specific goals and a plan for how they’re going to get there … I was very intentional with them about that.”

Bond said he wants his players to keep each other accountable, to communicate with each other what their plans are and if they’re following through on them. He wants the team to keep each other in line but to mainly support each other’s success.

“I want to really have the guys know what I expect of them, but also what they’re going to expect of me,” Bond said. “I want to coach them, but I want to have them go out on the floor and have full confidence in themselves and know that I have full confidence in them. That’s part of my strength. I’m going to be pretty even keeled. I’m going to put in the work ahead of time. When it comes to game time, I’m going to be there for them, but I’m not going to lose my cool.”

While the players are practicing at home for the summer, Bond will find look for someone to take over his old positions. He said he has received a huge amount of interest from people all over the country.

“Honestly, I’ve been a little taken back by how many people are interested in coming here and coaching in this program. People from all over the place — East Coast, Midwest, local schools — I know we’ve had some tough times at APU, but it’s still very much a popular destination,” Bond said. “There are a lot of people wanting to leave what I view as other very good schools to come here. I think that really speaks highly of what we have going here, not just as a basketball program, but also as a university.”

Bond hopes to name the new assistant coach by June 1, but it might take longer. Until then, the other half of the office will remain empty.

Cougars Season Comes To An End In Emotional Game

This article was originally published in ZU News.

The Azusa Pacific men’s basketball season came to an end on Saturday night as the Cougars fell to California Baptist, 68-72, in the semi-finals of the NCAA DII West Region Tournament. The Cougars trailed by as much as 14 points at the start of the second half, before nearly completing a successful comeback.

“It’s a great college basketball game. Obviously the first half wasn’t our finest performance on either side of the ball. When we were down by 10, it seemed like a little bit too much of a hole to dig ourselves out of,” head coach Justin Leslie said.

The Cougars knew that they were capable of going head-to-head with Cal Baptist, especially after their huge first-round upset. APU beat this year’s PacWest Champion and the tournament’s No. 2 seed in Dixie State, 69-65, on Friday to advance to the second round. This loss was the Cougars’ fourth of the year to Cal Baptist, after losing to the Lancers in the PacWest tournament last week and twice during the regular season.

Cal Baptist was the only team that APU played multiple times and did not defeat this year.

Sophomore guard Mandrell Worthy led the team with 24 points, which was a season high for him.

“My teammates put me in the right position. Coach called the plays and my teammates looked out for me,” Worthy said.

Sophomore forward Selom Mawugbe had eight points, six rebounds, and a team leading two blocks. These two blocks gave Mawugbe the single-season record for blocked shots with 89, a record that was formerly held by Coach Leslie (88) when he played for the Cougars back in 2001.

“I brought him here to break that record. I told him that when I recruited him,” Leslie said.

This game was also particularly big because it was the final game for senior forwards Corey Langerveld and Petar Kutlesic.

“This loss really hurts. It’s always tough at the end of the year to be put in a position like this where they’re here because they had a good game, but I know their hearts are with the seniors who aren’t going to be here anymore. Their hearts want to be back out on that court for one more possession to have another chance,” Leslie said. “We’re going to miss Corey and Petar and their unbelievable investments they’ve made in this program as four and five-year players.”

Leslie also said that he believes the program will be in good hands due to the impact the two seniors have had.

“They’ve passed the torch off to men who are going to be hungry and are going to come back and continue to represent APU basketball,” Leslie said. “These are wonderful men that I’m surrounded with. I just couldn’t be more happy to coach this group. It hurts right now, but this is a wonderful team to be a part of.”

Mawugbe said that he’s learned from both Kutlesic and Langerveld in his time at APU.

“I learned a lot in these past two years that I’ve been honored to play with them. Corey is the epitome of a leader. All the little things that we take for granted and don’t want to do, Corey just jumps in with both hands and both feet with no hesitation and accepts that role. I learned a perseverance that I’ve never seen before,” Mawugbe said. “As for Petar, he has this fight in him that I’ll never forget. He works hard at his craft. I learned a lot from him as a freshman. He brought me in and was willing to teach me. He taught me what he was best at.”

Worthy, who transfered to APU this past offseason, said he has also learned a lot this year.

“I came here with the intentions to come to the NCAA tournament every year because that’s what this program is used to. I’ve learned from the two seniors. They were the ones with the experience so I looked to them to follow,” Worthy said.

Leslie echoed Worthy’s claim that the team wanted to be there every year.

“I could not be more proud to be a part of this program. As Mandrell said, our goal is to be here every year. The reason we do is the quality of character of these men and it carries over onto the basketball court,” Leslie said. “I brought my son on multiple road trips this year. These guys are his heroes. That’s why I do it.”

Cougars Stay Alive With Huge Postseason Win

This article was originally published in ZU News.

All the Azusa Pacific men’s basketball team wanted was one more chance. It seems that they are making the most out of that final opportunity.

The No. 7-seeded Cougars won their first-round match of the playoffs against the No. 2 seed Dixie State, 69-65. The Cougars were led by junior guard Darien McClain and senior forward Petar Kutlesic with 21 and 18 points respectively.

Last week, APU lost to California Baptist in the PacWest postseason tournament. Even with the loss, the 20-10 Cougars were selected as part of the eight team NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament.

This win was particularly big for the Cougars because it keeps them alive in the postseason, while also snapping Dixie State’s 17-game win streak and ending their season earlier than expected. Dixie finished first in PacWest play, with a record of 23-6.

Kutlesic helped seal the win for the Cougars by scoring four points in the final two minutes of the game. He finished the night with a team leading 10 rebounds.

With everything on the line and every team in a win-or-go-home situation, the Cougars will look to seek vengeance and redemption against one of their biggest rivals tomorrow.

With the win, the Cougars move on to the second round of the tournament where they will face the No. 3 seed, California Baptist, at 5 p.m. on Saturday. This will be the fourth time that the two teams will meet this season, and the Lancers are the only PacWest opponent that APU has yet to beat this year.

Cougars Rally For Comeback Victory Over Biola In Front Of Packed Crowd

This article was originally published in ZU News

The Felix Events Center was the loudest its been since Midnight Madness, which took place before the Cougars’ first game of the season. A total of 1,948 students, parents, and rival spectators filled the gym to watch the first men’s basketball game between Azusa Pacific and Biola in four years. The hype had built up for months and the teams did not disappoint as APU rallied to an 82-76 victory.

Senior forward Corey Langerveld was one of the only players on the team that had played Biola before, in his freshmen year.

“I almost didn’t get to experience this rivalry again. There was a lot of intensity, which is good for us. If I remember correctly, there were more people here when I played them my freshmen year, but that game wasn’t during break,” Langerveld said. “It meant a lot to us that so many students came back early to watch the game. We were worried that no one was going to be here. I thank The ZU for rallying so many people and getting them out here.”

Sophomore guard Mandrell Worthy was equally excited about the game.

“It was a great atmosphere. I love playing in rivalry games. Everyone was hyped and there was a lot of adrenaline. I can’t wait for the next time we play them,” Worthy said.

This was the 104th meeting between the two schools, and the Cougars now hold a 56-48 lead in the all-time match-up rivalry.

Worthy led the team with 21 points. He also had eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

“We play as a unit. My teammates found me and I made shots, but it’s all because of them. They created shots for me,” Worthy said.

The rest of the team didn’t shoot quite as well as Worthy. The team shot 35.8 percent overall and 20.0 percent from beyond the arc.

“I can’t believe we shot that bad, especially in the first half. We had a lot of great looks that just wouldn’t go. To shoot 35 percent and still score in the 80’s… that’s a fluke,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “It was the rebounding. We kept crashing and got the misses. We had 25 offensive rebounds. It wasn’t pretty, but good teams have to find ways to win and that was our way tonight.”

The Cougars struggled in the first half, as Biola opened up a nine-point lead. APU was able to come back and tie it up 32-32 going into halftime.

“We weren’t doing a good job of containing them early on. We just had to make some adjustments. They were scoring a bit too consistently. Selom and Petar rebounded well and contained them in the last few minutes. It was just our guys digging in and getting a stop and then making the appropriate play on offense,” Leslie said.

Each team traded shots in the second half, with a total of nine ties in the first 15 minutes of the half. With a little over four minutes left and the score tied 65-65, the Cougars defense buckled down and the offense went off, allowing the team to build a lead as big as 11 points.

“Players make plays. I’d love to say I made some great play calls, but it was them. Darien [McClain] made some great passes and had that lay-up. Mandrell [Worthy] outsprinted them for the ball which turned into a fast break dunk. Petar [Kutlesic] crashed the rim and got a tip-in. Selom [Mawugbe] got a tip-in,” Leslie said. “They pulled together and made the appropriate play. It showed a lot of maturity to go out there and take advantage of what was given.”

Worthy credited the defense for getting stops while Langerveld said the team was waiting for a run like that.

“We knew we had to make a run sooner or later. We burst through that wall. We had to just lock down on defense and then make smart offensive plays, which is what we did,” Langerveld said.

The team had four players score in the double digits on the night. Langerveld had 15 points, senior forward Petar Kutlesic and junior guard Darien McClain both had 13 points.

“We’re a deep team, a balanced team. We have lots of guys who are capable of scoring points in different ways,” Leslie said. “I’m always happy when different guys have the opportunity to step up. They all play a valuable role. They’re critical to our success. Mandrell off the bench tonight was just fantastic. Ben [Taufahema] came off the bench and made those two-three’s in the first half, which kept us in striking distance. It was exciting to see them come in and have an impact. I was very pleased with the bench.”

The Cougars improve to 11-5 on the season and a 7-1 record in the PacWest, currently sitting at first place in the conference. APU will have to perform near-perfectly as they prepare for another one of their biggest rivals, Cal Baptist, in Riverside on Jan. 13. The matchup will be a battle for first-place as the Lancers are currently 12-2 on the season and 5-1 in conference play.

Cougars Cruise To Win Over Biola, Continue To Dominate PacWest

This article was originally published in ZU News.

The women’s basketball team improved to 16-2 on the season and a conference best 7-1 record with a 75-61 win against Biola on Jan. 6. This was their first game against Biola as part of the Cornerstone Cup.

The Cougars drained a total of ten three-point baskets in the game, led by senior guards Abbigail Goodsell and Tara Casey, who both had four.

“We usually take that many three pointers in a game. They usually don’t. They were making them and that’s what was keeping them in the game. We would have liked to not let them make as many, but in a rivalry game, that’s going to happen,” head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “I was proud of our girls. They grinded through the whole game.”

Although the team shot well from behind the arc, they missed a lot of shots in the second half, shooting 32.9 percent overall.

“We didn’t have the execution we wanted to have at times on plays. Even when those plays broke down, we got after the ball with 14 offensive rebounds in the second half,” Hardeman said.

The team was led by Goodsell and sophomore guard Savanna Hanson, who had 17 points apiece. Hanson also had 11 rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

“We would have liked to beat them by more, but we were just happy that we’re taking the win,” Hanson said. “We can take the good things we did tonight, mainly threes, and find the other stuff we still need to work on.”

Casey and Gabrielle Kaiser also helped the team get the win. Casey had 15 points while Kaiser had nine points with a team-leading two blocks.

“The game went really well. We worked hard. We knew their plays. We worked together as a team and had some ups and downs,” Kaiser said.

With the win, the Cougars increased their win streak to five games, but Kaiser said the streak isn’t important to the team.

“The streak doesn’t matter to us. We’re focusing on each game, going game by game. We have to come out with our best effort each time,” Kaiser said.

One of the keys to the wins has been defense. During the streak, the offense has been averaging 85 points a game, while their defense has allowed a stifling 61 points a game on average.

“We’re putting our defense first. Even in games where we don’t shoot really well, our defense shuts them down and we get the win,” Hanson said.

This was the first time the team has played Biola as part of the new Cornerstone Cup, which will be awarded to the school with the most overall points through different sports.

“This is the biggest crowd that we’ve had all year,” Kaiser said. “It feels like a rivalry already, not quite as big as CBU yet, but it will get there.”

Hardeman stated that he enjoyed the competitive atmosphere and the chance to play a school like Biola.

“They’re great people. It’s good to know that they’ve got the same goal in developing young women and men of God,” Hardeman said. “We want to compete and beat them and they want to beat us too, but when we’re done, we’re all brothers and sisters.”

Prior to the game, APU was ranked 18th in the NCAA Division II rankings.

“That just means we need to work harder,” Kaiser said. “We’re not number one yet.”

The Cougars will prepare for another rivalry game as they will head to Riverside to take on California Baptist on Jan. 13.

Men's Basketball Works On Chemistry Ahead Of Season

This article was originally published in ZU News.

The men’s basketball team will return only two starters from last year as they look to improve from their 16-15 record of last season. Fortunately, the two starters that are returning are both seniors that led the Cougars last year.

Senior forward Corey Langerveld averaged 12.9 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 1.3 assists per game last year. Langerveld trained to be more aggressive in the offseason.

“I’m trying to develop an aggressive mindset. I need to get to the free throw line a lot more. A lot of the workouts I did were focusing on seeking contact, going to the rim and not just settling for three pointers,” Langerveld said.

The Cougars have played two exhibition games so far. They lost to The Master’s , the fifth ranked team in the NAIA division, by a score of 75-87. APU won their second game against Westcliff 92-49.

“Going into that game, we knew that it was really just about finding our rhythm. We’re a relatively new team, in that half the guys that are going to be playing a lot are brand new,” Langerveld said. “We worked on specific plays and actions that coach wanted us to develop on offense. It was a good opportunity for us to go out and play with one another against another team.”

A total of 12 players got the chance to play against Westcliff. For some, it was their first time getting playing time in a game for APU.

Head coach Justin Leslie said that the team is still working on their chemistry.

“I think we had a good productive offseason with our returners and with the younger guys as well who will be stepping into bigger roles this year,” Leslie said. “We do have some transfers that are going to play significant roles for us that I’m excited about. We just have to develop the chemistry. There’s no substitute for time. We’re going to be a work in progress for a while, but I like what we have and ultimately it’s going to add up to a good group.”

The Cougars first two games of the season are against UC San Diego and Cal Poly Pomona, on Nov. 10-11. Leslie said that the team will need to play very well in these games.

“They’re both really good so we’ll need to play really well. We need to guard. I think we’ve got a chance to be a good defensive team, to be physical and hard to penetrate. That’s something that I’m looking to lean on early,” Leslie said. “On the offensive side we need to get in the paint and have good decision making. We can’t just sit outside and chuck three’s. We’ve got to put pressure on the heart of the defense. We’re working hard on that.”

Senior forward Petar Kutlesic noted the efforts the team has made to improve.

“A lot of guys are new to the offense and new to the system,” Kutlesic said. “They might be putting too much pressure on themselves right now, but that’s normal for the beginning of the season. Once everybody knows their role, we’ll be fine.”

The Pacific West conference preseason rankings were released last week. APU was projected to finish fifth in the conference.

“If you don’t think you’re going to finish higher, then I don’t think you have the right mindset going in. At the same time, we have a lot of new guys, so it’s going to be a process to get where we need to be,” Langerveld said. “We’re not in PacWest championship form right now. It’s more about getting to embrace the process of getting to where we need to be as a team. I think fifth is a good reflection of how we played last year. I don’t think anyone feels disrespected by that. I think we’ll finish higher.”

Leslie gave less regard to the preseason ranking.

“To be perfectly honest, I think the whole preseason poll is a joke. We don’t do anything to publish our recruiting. Every year it’s ironic that no newcomers make the all-conference team [in the preseason poll] and every year the all-conference team has newcomers on it when the end of the year rolls around,” Leslie said. “I don’t think it’s a very accurate indicator of what’s actually going to transpire in the season. I put no stock in it whatsoever. Frankly, teams that focus on their preseason don’t usually do too well in the postseason.”

Both Langerveld and Kutlesic said they were looking forward to the games against Cal Baptist the most. Langerveld said he’s excited to go to their new arena and Kutlesic said he wants to beat them one last time, before they move to Division I next year. Leslie is looking forward to a different matchup.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s something that I lived through for a lot of years as a player and a coach. It’s the type of rivalry that we need. It brings out the best in both schools. That’s one of the highlights of the season, having them back in the conference.”

Basketball Falls Short In PacWest Tournament

This article originally appeared in ZU News.

Women’s Basketball

After going 15-13 in the regular season, the women’s team made it to the PacWest Tournament in Irvine, Calif. The Cougars got past Notre Dame de Namur in the first round, but lost a heart-breaker against rival California Baptist in the semifinals, losing 86-85.

Junior guard Tara Casey led the team with 20 points against Cal Baptist, while sophomore forward Samantha Huddleston had recorded her second double-double of the season, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Cougars shot a season best 52.9 percent on three-pointers (9-for-17), and in both PacWest games, APU placed six players in double figures.

Head coach T.J. Hardeman noted how well the team played.

“Our goal was to play our best at the end of the year. We feel that we were playing our best right now,” Hardeman said. “Things were going well, just down the stretch we didn’t get it done offensively. Their defense did a good job.”

Freshmen guard Zoe March helped the Cougars effort with 11 points. She noted how hard the team was playing, especially in the final quarter.

“You think in your head that you’ve worked this hard this whole game and you don’t want to give it up anymore, you want to go harder,” March said.

The Cougar’s effort came up just short, as Cal Baptist rallied from a nine point deficit to win the game. Cal Baptist was ranked as the third best Division-II team in the country, and they would go on to win their first ever PacWest Championship against Point Loma.

Junior Abigail Goodsell noted that even though the team lost, she was proud of the way they played.

“These are my favorite games, when they’re close. We’re fighting back and forth, getting baskets and taking them away. It’s fun and I’m excited for next year,” Goodsell said.

Goodsell, a transfer from Sacramento State, was one of the many first-time players for APU this year. All of the starting five were either transfers or freshmen.

“We were all new, but we’ve played a full season. This season was all about growth for us,” Goodsell said. “We set goals to make it to the tournament and win the championship and though we were just a basket short of that, we’re all coming back next year. We’re all planning on working individually and as a team during the summer.”

Goodsell said this all with a smile in a press conference immediately following the game. Handling the loss well, Coach Hardeman and his players are already looking forward to next season.

“I hate to lose, but it’s just exciting to know that we have everybody back. Last year we lost everybody. It’s gonna be fun to put to use what we learned and learn new stuff,” Hardeman said.

Men’s Basketball

The men’s basketball team also suffered a close loss in the PacWest Tournament, losing to Chaminade in the first round, 65-69. They almost managed a comeback down 67-56 with less than five minutes left in the game, putting together a 9-0 rally to bring the score within two. With 31 seconds left in regulation, Chaminade player Sam Daly hit a shot to seal his team’s win.

Men’s head coach Justin Leslie expressed how well the team played in the first half, but struggled in the second.

“I thought we played a fantastic first half,” Leslie said. “It was great, up until the last minute and a half when they were able to get two three’s. They carried that momentum over into the second half. We couldn’t get a rhythm offensively. We turned it on late, we gave ourselves a chance, but they got a tough shot and Daly hit it.”

Leslie and his players spoke with disappointment as the Cougars’ season finished earlier than it had in the past four years.

“The reality is that winning is really hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It comes down to being consistent in practice and in the start of the game until the end of the game,” Leslie said.

The team finished with a record of 16-15. They captured the fifth seed to make it to the PacWest Tournament.

“I just think it’s honestly a testament to APU basketball that when you get the fifth seed in the conference and win 16 games, everybody thinks the sky is falling. I think there’s a lot of teams that would like to have a season that bad,” Leslie said.

Leslie said that this game and this season would help teach his team.

“This team is a young group and has had to deal with maturing and accepting responsibility,” Leslie said. “At the end of the day, what they learn from this difficult season, we’re going to be better as a result. We will learn from this. Our program will rebound.”

Junior forward Corey Langerveld was not shy about the way he and the team played.

“I think the history of APU is very successful. I feel like we disrespected APU’s tradition. We need to learn from it and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Langerveld said.

Junior forward and teammate Petar Kutlesic agreed with Langerveld and is looking forward to having a better campaign next season.

“We’re definitely young and we’re looking forward to working this summer,” Kutlesic said. “We’ll bring APU their glory next year.”

New Players Grow Together Toward Success

This article originally appeared in ZU News.

Four transfers and one junior make up the five starters on APU’s Women’s basketball team. Five players who had never suited up with each other before November have put together a 13-12 season so far, with a five-game win streak that ended only last week.

The team comprised of transfers Abigail Goodsell, Gabrielle Kaiser, Tara Casey, Casey Wortley and freshman Zoe March, struggled in the first half of the season, posting a 3-7 record through the first 10 games.

“It’s definitely been difficult,” Casey said. “I know at the beginning of the season we were really struggling, but the more we got to know each other and the more we got to play together, we got more cohesive.”

This cohesiveness has clearly showed as the team has posted a 10-5 record since that point. This included the five-game win streak, with three of those victories coming in double digit margins.

“We were just playing to the potential that we can achieve,” Wortley said. “We were playing with confidence. We have confidence in each other and it showed on the court.”

One of the victories came against Dominican, in a 97-93 win in double overtime. Casey noted the significance of this win.

“It really boosted our energy,” Casey said. “We were all super positive once we won each game.”

The momentum came to a halt on Feb. 6 against Hawaii Pacific, with a 48-76 loss. A second setback came three days later with a loss to Point Loma.

“After a big loss, it helps the team pull together and work a lot harder. So, we’re going to work a lot harder after those two losses,” Casey said.

Casey was not the only one who viewed the losses as an opportunity to improve. Freshman Zoe March, the youngest of the starting five, noted that it was a kind of blessing in disguise.

“Sometimes you gotta hit a low before you’re ready to climb. We hit that low and we’re ready to climb now,” March said.

March was not shy about admitting that the team didn’t play their best during those games. But she was just as confident in their ability to bounce back.

“I expect us to win our last four games,” March said. “I know we’re capable of doing so and I know that we’re going to come out and give it our best, so I expect us to win.”

She was not alone. Wortley noted the keys to winning after the two losses.

“We just need to focus on what we’re better at, how we work together, just keep fighting and it will work out in the end,” Wortley said.

Wortley emphasized the team working together. A redshirt sophomore transfer from Iona College in New York, she came to APU because it felt like the perfect fit.

“I came in not really knowing anybody,” Wortley said. “But we’re all learning. I feel like it all works out in the end, we’re all learning and growing together which is really nice. I think we’re all on the same page now.”

She leads the team in rebounds with 141, averaging 5.9 per game. Wortley also averages 7.8 points per game. She has been a strong presence on defense with the most defensive rebounds and second most blocks.

Casey has also had a significant impact on the court for the Cougars. She transferred from Irvine Valley College.

“I really liked the whole environment at APU, the God First [motto], and I knew they would be losing a lot of players. So, I figured it’d be fun to come here and create a new team,” Casey said.

Casey has been a big part of that new team, having played the second most minutes. She also has the second most three point baskets with 56 total, and averages 9.1 points per game. She and her teammates also helped freshman Zoe March get accustomed to the college game.

“It was difficult in the beginning just getting to know everyone,” March said. “But our team is full of girls who came in here with an optimistic viewpoint ready to learn about each other and get to know each other. We’re not trying to outplay one another. It helps coming on to a team whose focus is trying to win as a team and not individually.”

March emphasized how much the rest of the team has helped her, saying they were patient with her when she was adjusting to the pace of play of college basketball.

“Coming on to a new team has been a great experience for me,” March said. “I can call these girls my sisters and I’m honestly having a blast.”

March is averaging 7.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. She ranks second on the team in assists (94) and third in steals (44).

Transfers Abigail Goodsell and Gabrielle Kaiser round out the starting five. Goodsell leads the team in minutes played, points per game (15.2), three point baskets (67), assists (129), and is tied with Kaiser for the most steals (45). Kaiser averages 14.9 points per game and leads the team in free throws made (94), offensive rebounds (63), and blocks (41).

After two straight losses, the Cougars got back to their winning ways, defeating Concordia 77-65 in their final home game of the season.

With only three games left in the regular season, the team still has the possibility of making the conference playoffs, depending on how they finish.

The Cougars’ next game will be at Fresno Pacific on Feb. 18.

Rebuilding A Talented And Young Basketball Team

This article originally appeared in ZU News.

Women’s basketball faces a season of growth and improvement as the team starts five freshmen and five juniors, only two of which played for the Cougars last season.

Last year, the Cougars went 28-4 in regular season play, 19-1 in conference games, won the conference title and made it to the first round of the playoffs.

After last season, the Cougars were in need of a new group of talent, losing eight seniors and one junior. One of the seniors, Kelly Hardeman, signed a professional contract with BK Amager, a professional women’s team in Denmark.

Head coach T.J. Hardeman noted the success the Cougars had last season as well as the challenge the team would face in trying to replicate it this year.

“We get better every day,” Hardeman said. “They don’t have as much of a fallback as in other years. We’ve seen a huge increase whenever we put the practice jerseys on or scrimmage somebody else.”

Hardeman spoke from experience and said that although the girls are getting better, it will be a slow process.

“It will be a fun year, but it will be a learning year. We will definitely be better at the end of the year,” Hardeman said.

The Cougars recruited several new players from high schools, junior colleges and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) level. Several of these players will be starters for APU in their first year at the school.

“It seems that at this point, [the old and new players are] getting along very well. They’re very much like a growing sisterhood,” Hardeman said. “They compliment each other and compete hard against each other.”

Hardeman said he wants the girls to aim for the PacWest championship again, believing that aspiring for anything less would be selling themselves short.

“We feel like that’s what we want to get to. We have good enough talent to get there. It’s gonna take a lot of work and who knows how quick that happens, but that’s our goal,” Hardeman said.

Despite their youth, they are a better offensive and shooting team this year. However, they are working to improve their defense, especially when it comes to rebounds.

“That’s an area where we’re working very hard, to try to show up our rebounding,” Hardeman said. “If we can do that, we shoot the ball well and we’ve got some nice players with some inside presence who want the ball and can do stuff with the ball inside. I think we have a good combination of weapons that work well together.”

One of those players is freshmen guard Zoe March. She is from the Fresno area and got to play near home last week when APU had an exhibition match against Fresno State.

“Going back home and playing there and seeing family and friends in the stands was a lot of fun. It was a special moment for me,” March said.

March has experienced a tough physical transition from high school with practice and weights, but an easier transition on the team itself.

“Because it’s a new team, everyone’s on the same level and everyone’s experiencing the same things. We get to experience new things together, which has made it easier,” March said.

One of the few returning players who helped facilitate the transition is junior guard Joelle Tampien. She noted the strengths of the team last year compared to this year.

“Last year, that team had been together for two years, so we knew each other’s tendencies and got along really well,” Tampien said. “Transitioning to this year, we have a lot of talent, we’re just working on the whole chemistry part. I have pretty high expectations for this team.”

The Cougars are currently 1-1 after defeating Cal State Dominguez Hills 70-68 in their first game of the season. They lost to Cal Poly Pomona on Nov. 12, 56-67.

The Cougars will play their next game at Cal State Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 15.