Sagehens men’s basketball take gladiator mentality into new season

PP basketball player dribbles towards basket
Joe Cookson PO ’25 dribbles past opponent during an offensive run in the Voelkel gymnasium in their winter 2023-2024 season (Courtesy: Pomona-Pitzer Athletics)

After getting poached in both the conference and national playoffs last year, the Sagehens are fluffing up their feathers and gearing up to leave the nest in hopes of a season of redemption.

The Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) men’s basketball team was eliminated in the first round of the Division III NCAA tournament last March. This followed a heartbreaking upset loss to Cal Lutheran in the SCIAC playoff semi-finals just a week earlier. This year, after only graduating two seniors, the Sagehens look much the same and are eagerly anticipating an opportunity for revenge. With a fresh mindset and an improved team culture, they are working toward a push for a SCIAC championship and hopefully another shot at Nationals.

According to Joe Cookson PO ’25, a key focus for P-P this winter is to maintain a consistent high level of energy throughout the whole season.

“One of our goals for this year is to come with a certain intensity to every game,” Cookson said. ”[We’re going to try] to not take any games off and treat every opponent like they’re the best team we’re gonna play… [We want to] bring that mentality to every single game, every possession and not get checked out.”

In the spirit of prioritizing mental discipline, the Sagehens are working to ignore external judgments and concentrate internally. Coming into last season, P-P was ranked no. 12 nationally. This year, they are going into the season unranked. However, according to Hayden Moser PO ’24, the team has learned to not be too overconfident.

“[Last year] we thought we were really, really good and so we were expecting to win these games,” Moser said. “We’ve learned a lot from last year. We are not ranked right now. I don’t care about being ranked. I just want to become a better team.”

The Sagehens are working to improve by adopting a new mentality. According to Achilles Daniels-Condon PO ’26, the coaches are looking to amplify the players’ aggressive drive.

“[The coaches talk about] a motto of maintaining a competitive edge 100 percent of the time,” Daniels-Condon said. “[Head coach Charles Katsiaficas] was comparing it to being gladiators in a ring and fighting as if it’s life or death. If you’re in that situation, you don’t have time to take your foot off the pedal.”

To Daniels-Condon, keeping their foot on the gas means never letting up on defense. He explained he hopes part of the team’s competitive warrior mentality will show up on the glass, emphasizing the importance of rebounding to end opposing possessions.

[Rebounding] is one of the things that we’ve been working on a lot,” Daniels-Condon said. “[We’ve been] trying to get stops and the best way to get stops is to rebound.”

However, board work and defensive lockdown are only some areas of tactical focus for the Sagehens this season. According to Moser, the team has placed an emphasis on redefining their culture, something they struggled with last year.

“I think it wasn’t necessarily basketball that we were lacking last year,” Moser said. “We didn’t always have a lot of team camaraderie … I think we are much better off [now] than we were at the end of last season.”

Pete Boyle PO ’25 said that the team hopes the new mindset and harmony will unlock their full potential and allow them to achieve their goals.

“I came here to win. I want to continue that,” Boyle said. “The mission is halfway there. We’re trying to get better each year.”

Moser echoed this sentiment, highlighting the all-or-nothing mentality of the team. He emphasized the importance of winning the SCIAC conference title and redeeming their loss to Cal Lu.

“If we get second [in SCIAC] that’s a failed season regardless of what any individual accomplishes this year,” Moser said.

In their first step toward that title, the Sagehens started their season on a high note with a decisive 75-59 win over the East Texas Baptist Tigers on Nov. 11. They will get back on the court against Stanton university at home at Voelkel Gymnasium on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m.

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