By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Even as The Master’s University men’s basketball team slipped on championship T-shirts, even as one Mustang after another ascended a ladder inside Warrior Arena and snipped the net into small pieces, at least one player’s mind wandered to what lay ahead.
“It’s a great feeling, taking care of business, but this doesn’t mean anything without making a push toward a national title,” said senior wing Delewis Johnson. “We’re all locked in and ready.”
The Mustangs became the first men’s basketball team to ever win three straight Golden State Athletic Conference titles on Saturday with an 89-74 win over No. 19 William Jessup in Rocklin.
Tim Soares led Master’s with 24 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Johnson added 22 points, and Brock Gardner scored 17.
As the No. 5-ranked Mustangs (27-5) closed the regular season with six straight wins and beat Westmont in Friday’s semifinal, Johnson repeatedly said it was the bitter taste from last season’s NAIA nationals appearance that motivated him.
Master’s entered nationals last year as the No. 1 overall seed, which made Peru State’s upset victory in the first round all the more stunning.
Now, the Mustangs will get another opportunity. Not as the top seed, but as a high seed, one that’s been through more bumps in the road this time around, having lost four games during conference play (as opposed to one).
They believe they’re better for it.
The NAIA will release its Division 1 bracket Wednesday on Facebook Live at 3 p.m. The tournament, in Kansas City, Missouri, begins March 20 and runs through March 26.
Women’s basketball heads to NAIA nationals
TMU senior Jamilee Iddings seemed grateful that coach Dan Waldeck had warned the Mustangs about what awaited them at practice last week.
The focus ahead of TMU’s trip to Billings, Montana, for this week’s NAIA Division 1 tournament – where Master’s will face the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma on Wednesday at 3 p.m. – was on the club’s mentality.
“We’ve had a few tough practices, brutal,” Iddings said. “But coach warned us about that, and he asked us to give it our all. It’s the end of the season. You lose, you’re out. You win, you keep going. You have to give it your all. That’s been the focus. No regrets. Leave it all on the court.”
After a season in which it won the program’s first-ever Golden State Athletic Conference regular season title, the Mustangs (26-6) are headed to a familiar place.
TMU, a No. 2 seed in the field of 32, is making its seventh straight appearance at nationals. And first on the docket is a talented Science and Arts team.
The seventh-seeded Drovers (21-11) finished third in the tough Sooner Athletic Conference behind top-10 ranked teams, Oklahoma City University and Wayland Baptist.
Vivian Holcomb, a 6-foot-1 forward for the Drovers, was the SAC Player of the Year. Teammate Reyna Ammons was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“They’re a very talented, long and athletic team,” Waldeck said. “They complement great post play with dynamic guards, so it’ll be a challenge.”
With a win, Master’s would play the winner of MidAmerica Nazarene (Kansas) and Xavier (Louisiana) on Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Each game of the tournament will be broadcast live at NAIA.org. Single-game passes may be purchased for $9.95.
3 earn bids to track nationals
Freshman Arianna Ghiorso could barely contain herself.
“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to scream as bad as I did when I was approaching the finish line and could see the clock,” she said.
Ghiorso finished the 1,500 meters at the Occidental Distance Carnival on Saturday in 4 minutes, 40.52 seconds. In the process, she qualified for NAIA nationals and set a TMU record for a freshman’s debut in the event.
Coach Zach Schroeder saw it coming.
“She’s been working extremely hard, and she has a bright season ahead of her,” Schroeder said.
So do Wesley Methum and Stephen Pacheco, both of whom qualified for NAIA nationals Saturday in the 5,000 meters.
Canyon High grad Seanna Nalbandyan was just off her lifetime best in the open 400 Saturday, which Schroeder saw as a positive sign.
“It’s a great indicator that she’s ready to qualify in the 400 hurdles next weekend,” he said.
Nalbandyan, who earned All-American honors in the 400 hurdles last season, and her teammates will compete at the Ross & Sharon Irwin Collegiate Scoring Meet on Saturday in San Diego.