With an 86-72 Golden State Athletic Conference win over No. 25-ranked Arizona Christian (17-7, 7-5 GSAC) on Saturday night in Murchison Gymnasium, No. 6 Westmont Men's Basketball (23-5, 11-1) has done something for the first time since 1992 – won a GSAC Regular Season Championship.
"It has been a long time coming," said Westmont head coach John Moore of his first regular season GSAC title. "There have been a lot of guys who have helped gain the momentum that our current players got a chance to fulfill. We don't want to forget the legacy of those players who went before us and did yeoman's work to help this day happen.
"You have to appreciate this moment," said the coach. "You can't deny the satisfaction that comes from it. Too often in athletics we think ahead instead of appreciating the moment. This is a moment to be appreciated. We will stay in the moment until Monday, and then we will prepare for the next two games."
That appreciation began in a celebration with fans as one-by-one, players climbed a ladder and cut down a portion of the net. Freshman went first, then sophomores. Then it was time for the upperclassmen beginning with the juniors – Brendan Hill, C.J. Miller, Mantas Drungys, Jason Ritchie and Marcus Farrand. The seniors were the next up the ladder – Cooper Damron, Niko Brooks, Jordan Sachs and Preston Branson.
The coaching staff also got their chance to join in the celebration with Moore the last to ascend to the net and cut the final loop that released the webbing from the rim.
"It was humbling," said Moore of his moment on the ladder with the team gather around and chanting his name. "I'm a small part of this. The players are the ones that make the shots, secure the rebounds and have to earn the playing time. It's humbling because it is a culmination of many years of trying to earn this moment. It has been 20 years.
"What I thought about at that moment on the ladder were the coaches who came before me – Jeff Crosby, Chet Kammerer, Ron Mulder, Tom Byron and Jack Siemens. I thought about how much they did to build this program. I get the satisfaction of benefiting from their good work.
"I don't want to deny, however, that I couldn't wait to get up there and clip the net and hang it around my neck."
As sweet as the moment was for the coach, there was also something missing. Moore's wife Rachel lost her father last weekend and was still in the Bay Area caring for her mom.
"You can't be in two places and she is where she needs to be," said Moore. "She deserved to be here, though. She has made so many sacrifices to take care of me, to take care of our daughters and to take care of our family so that I could coach. Rachel has held my end up and has done it with a huge celebrative attitude. She loves to celebrate people's success. I can't wait to talk with her."
In the game that clinched the championship, Branson tallied 26 points, five rebounds and five assists to lead the Warriors. Miller added another 15 points and eight rebounds while Brooks put up 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
"I think we played a very good game and a very good second half," said Moore. "In the first half, (Arizona Christian) came back and cut the lead to one. I thought the momentum was going their way. We built the lead back up to eight and went into halftime with a six point lead.
"I thought our second half was a combination of lots of people who did fantastic things, including people whose minutes have been somewhat limited – Brendan Hill, Daniel Carlin, Mantas Drungys, Jason Ritchie, and Marcus Farrand. Our second half was very good, especially defensively."
Despite tonight's celebration, the regular season is not over.
"In the past few years, if you win the GSAC regular season you are automatically going to Kansas City," noted Moore. "We've won a GSAC Championship, but it is the (GSAC) Tournament championship that gets the guaranteed berth. We have to keep that in mind and finish well in two regular season games on the road against two quality opponents.
Westmont will play its final two at Concordia on Tuesday and at Biola on Saturday.
When the GSAC Tournament gets underway on Thursday, February 28, the Warriors will be the number one seed and will host the number eight seed, which is yet to be determined. The highest remaining seed will serve as hosts for both GSAC Tournament semifinals games on Saturday, March 2.