Last season was a memorable one for WCU Men’s basketball team as they claimed their first ever NCAA Tournament victory. With a taste of the tournament in their mouth, the Golden Rams are hungry to get back and possibly surpass where their season ended last year. WCU’s season ended last year with a loss to East Stroudsburg University in the NCAA Atlantic Regional Semifinal.
While WCU will be competing this year with the same core as last season, the Golden Rams managed to add four newcomers to their already-talented roster, three first-years and one transfer.
Kyle Thompson, a scoring guard from St. Joseph’s Prep will add more to the WCU’s dynamic backcourt. Thompson managed to put up 16 points per game at St. Joe’s. WCU’s frontcourt will also gain help as they add two 6’8ers in Nick Alikakos from The Hill School and Josh Samec of Hazleton. Alikakos, a player who had three NCAA Division I offers and still decided to come to West Chester, will look to add a dominant presence on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Ian Landendoerfer, a 6’5 transfer from NCAA Division I Loyola University joins the squad as a third-year, who has experienced the big moments of March Madness and can bring that leadership into WCU’s locker room.
Back to WCU’s returning core of Matt Penecale, Jackson Hyland and Frank Rokins who will look to drive the Golden Rams further into the NCAA Tournament. Along with All-Team honors for each of these players, they have the respect as three of the top-returning players in the PSAC East. Penecale, an All-PSAC Second Team selection, will be running the show as the team’s captain. Another All-PSAC second team selection, Hyland, will look to have another great offensive season after scoring 16.4 points per game last season. After only being here for one season, Rokins made an immediate impact as he was awarded PSAC East Defensive Athlete of the Year.
“A lot of the good teams lose their best pieces and we’re lucky to be able to have these guys returning,” Coach Damien Blair responded when asked about the big roles returning players might have.
Another big name the Golden Rams are looking forward to welcoming back is guard Malik Jackson. Jackson, a player who is regarded as one of the best in the country, offers more scoring at the guard position. WCU’s backcourt is looking like it’ll be a tough test for opponents if Jackson can pick up where he left off during his second-year campaign prior to taking a year off.
With the core of the Golden Rams remaining strong and the addition of four new pieces, WCU should be expecting a lot from the Men’s Basketball team.
Coach Blair says in order for the team to pick up where they left off last year they must adhere to the same culture that got them to that point before. It’ll be important to make sure the newcomers pick up the system, the team as a whole stays healthy and focused throughout the season.
It’s still a few months before fans will be able to see WCU men’s basketball team back in action. Since the team is finally allowed to get together for practices, Coach Blair will get the opportunity to see how he will get all these pieces to work together.
Saturday, Oct. 20 is when the team will officially compete for the first time of the 2018-2019 season. WCU will host Thomas Jefferson University, formerly known as Philadelphia University, here at Hollinger Fieldhouse starting at 3:30 p.m. The team also faces another tough exhibition opponent in Rider University. The NCAA Division I program who just missed the NCAA Tournament will host the Golden Rams Saturday, Nov. 3 starting at 4 p.m.
WCU will travel to West Virginia to kick off the regular season. Friday, Nov. 9 the team will go up against West Virginia Wesleyan for their first game. The following day, they will match up against West Liberty University. As a team that is a part of the same region as WCU and has been ranked as one of the top five programs in the country for the past ten years, West Liberty will be a great test for the Golden Rams. The first few games of the season will be very tough for Coach Blair and the team. They’re going up against great competition and will need to be on top of their game.
After practices and adjustments to the roster, it’ll be very interesting to see the men’s basketball team back in action. Following a great season last year, expectations for this year’s team are very high.
“This team has so much potential. Honestly, the sky’s the limit for these guys,” says Coach Blair.
Tyler Jefferson is a third-year student with an undeclared major. ✉ TG876163@wcupa.edu.