High Hopes for the Stags: Key Starters Return to Form Strong Core

Hard work. Togetherness. Consistency. Combine those with the talent of the eighteen members of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s basketball team, and you have yourself a team that’s a strong contender for the 2014-2015 SCIAC title.

The Stags went 15-1 in last year's season to clinch the SCIAC regular season title but fell to California Lutheran University in the first round of the SCIAC tournament after the Kingsmen sunk a heartbreaking, last-second basket. But, this year, with help from the returning core group, the Stags are determined to redeem themselves. 

The team will enter the season with high expectations as they were just eight points shy of cracking the top 25 on the D3Hoops.com preseason poll. Head coach Ken Scalmanini expects his players to compete strong in the last week of the regular season this year and hopes to get back to the NCAA tournament.

“We always have high expectations,” Scalmanini said. “People want to beat us. We have an ‘X’ on our back.”

Before they think about any long-term goals, CMS is focused on getting the team ready for non-conference competition by committing to improvement each and every day at practice.

“The beginning of the year is about setting the tone of hard work and playing together,” Scalmanini said. “We have a good core coming back, and the young guys are really willing, and they hustle all the time.”

The Stags are returning eleven players from last year’s team and adding six new first-years to the mix. One returning member is captain shooting guard Jack Grodahl CM ’15, who Scalmanini notes as one of the hardest workers on the team.

“One of the big things we’re working on this year with our guards is to be quick but not hurry,” Grodahl said.

In addition, center Shelby Lane CM ’16 adds that the posts have been working on finishing at the rim and playing big.

Another key returner for the Stags is captain guard Tyler Gaffaney CM ’14, who is back for another year of eligibility as he completes his Masters degree at CGU. Gaffaney has been selected to the Preseason All-Region team, announced last week. While he has collected many accolades in years past for CMS, Gaffaney is hungry to contribute even more in his last season.

“The guy just gets better every year,” Lane said.

You can expect Gaffaney, Grodahl and Lane to be big contributors for the Stags this year. While their conference season doesn’t begin until Jan. 3, with a home opener against the University of Redlands, the team has lined up a string of tough non-conference competition to prepare themselves for the toughness of the SCIAC schedule. Due to the construction of Roberts Pavilion, the Stags will play all their home competitions at Pomona’s Rains Center.

This weekend, the Stags travel to Wisconsin for the All-Engineers Classic. They open with their first game of the season Saturday, Nov. 15, against Ohio Northern University and then play again on Sunday.

While the Stags continue to work on their team chemistry and execution on the court, in addition to helping the newcomers get adjusted to the new system, the upperclassmen understand what it will take to be successful.

“A lot of people can win in the short term, but winning forever takes the desire to fight off complacency on a daily basis,” Grodahl said. “Every day it’s a battle, not only against your opponents, but also mentally.”

For CMS, their biggest opponent is themselves. Competing for a historically successful team brings a lot of pressure, but the Stags are prepared for the challenge.

“Whenever you have a team that’s had consistent success, it’s easy to lose motivation,” Lane said. “For us to win, we have to maintain that focus and drive.”