By Chris Gionta
Blake Arena has certainly made an adjustment to its men’s basketball team after the departure of Jake Ross and Heath Post. There has been a shift in the program’s culture at Springfield College, but it does not necessarily mean it is going to be worse.
The 2019-20 and the 2021-22 teams are completely different despite the lack of time between them. Only three of the players from the 2019-20 team are on the 2021-22 roster, which shows the youth of the Pride this year. In fact, seven of the 15 roster spots on the team are filled by first-years, and 10 of the spots are occupied by underclassmen.
The team does not necessarily lack talent, but they surely lack experience, which is out of their control. With two-thirds of the current roster in their first year of collegiate competition, there is a large amount of room to raise their level of play. A few of these underclassmen have already shown the ability to compete well at the collegiate level, which makes their potential improvement even more encouraging for the Pride.
Sophomore Zeke Blauner has been a standout player since the beginning of the year for Springfield. He began the season as a starter and made his presence known in his first appearance in front of the Blake Arena crowd. In that game against Eastern Connecticut State, he tallied 27 points after shooting 8-for-12 from the field and 9-for-9 on foul shots.
Overall, coming into Wednesday’s game against Clark, he was the team’s leading scorer and tied for the team’s most steals, and averaged 12.4 points per game and 1.5 steals per game.
First-year Jacob Morales has emerged as a top player for the Pride. He came into Wednesday’s game riding a streak of eight games with double-digit points. During this streak, he averaged 17 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Nick Bray has also been establishing himself as of late. His standout performance came off the bench at Babson, where he scored 21 points after shooting 6-for-9 from the field and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. He has started every game since, and in the previous 11 games heading into Wednesday, he averaged 11.5 points per game.
The 6-foot-8 Justin Dunne and the 6-foot-6 Curtiss Blische have each had some standout performances down low. Dunne showcased his defensive ability at home against Clark with eight blocks, and Blische’s best game thus far has been at home against Emerson. He grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, and his stiff defense helped hold center Jarred Houston, who came into the game averaging 18.9 points per game, to five points.
The Pride have a bevy of underclassmen that are already making an impact, and who are only improving.
This team has quality senior leadership with Daryl Costa and Collin Lindsay, as well as with Casey Lane, who has been like a coach after running into injury trouble. However, there are not many other upperclassmen around them, which makes it difficult for the team to succeed at the level that Springfield is used to.
Much of the team chemistry is being built with the first-years and the sophomores. By the time Blauner and Bray are seniors, this group of players in the Classes of 2024 and 2025 will be in their third year playing together. Not only will their skill be enhanced by this time, but the experience of playing together will make the team even more dangerous.
Walking back from Blake Arena after a men’s basketball game disappointed with the result is something Springfield College should not get used to. This season has been a transition year, almost by default due to the youth on the roster. Although transition years are not exciting as they are happening, they prelude a brighter future ahead. People should be confident in this team turning it around soon given how talented their young players are.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics