Triton Basketball Coaches Shooting for New Heights
Ioana Patringenaru | February 2, 2009
Erin Noonan, a junior, and Elliott, talk strategy during a game.
The Tritons’ women basketball team is in first place in its conference, while the men are one game out of first place this year, after their best season in history last year. Both players and coaches say they want to make a mark on the national stage. Some athletes are even talking about playing pro ball abroad.
The changes reflect a new momentum that UC San Diego’s two new basketball coaches, who are now in their second season on campus, have brought to their teams, said Earl Edwards, UCSD's athletics director.
“We are getting outstanding performances by both coaches,” Edwards said. “Both have taken us to the level where we should be.”
Charity Elliott, the women’s coach, and Chris Carlson, the men’s, have not only boosted their teams’ excellence on the court; they also have done an outstanding job at recruiting new players, Edwards said. Their experience as former Division 1 coaches at Portland State University and UCLA respectively, has been a major attraction and as a result taller, more athletic players are signing up, Edwards said.
Joining UCSD is an obvious choice for athletic students with a strong academic streak, said Michelle Osier, a senior who is in her fourth year on the women’s team. “Everyone who’s come into this program is a leader in their own way,” the UCSD forward said. Coach Elliott spends a lot of time recruiting players and that helps attract talented and responsible students to the program, Osier added. Although seven of last year’s players graduated, this year’s roster is even more well-rounded and skilled, she said.
“This year, every person on the floor can score,” Osier explained. “We have great chemistry and we really trust teach other. We’re all friends.”
Other teams are now looking at UCSD as a serious rival. “We’re making others believe,” the senior said. She is one of a few players exploring potential sints as professional athletes abroad after graduation. Kelvin Kim, a point guard on the men’s team, said he would like to play in Korea before going to medical school.
Shane Poppen in action.
Kim and his teammates started their pre-season with two games against San Diego State University and University of the Pacific, both Division 1 schools. The Tritons didn’t win, but they held their own. The experience they gained was valuable, said Shane Poppen, a guard on the UCSD squad. “We play those teams, and when we come into our division, we’re tougher,” he explained. Coach Carlson said he hoped the match-ups would make his players battle-ready for their conference season. Edwards said he hopes that in coming years UCSD will play against sister schools within the UC system, such as UC Riverside and UC Irvine.
This year, the UCSD men's squad has become a much stronger rebounding team, Carlson said. Defense also is one of the players’ strong suits. “If you do those every night, you’re going to win,” Carlson explained. These skills really came together during a Dec. 21 game against Grand Canyon University in Las Vegas, where the Tritons dominated 78-60. “When we play like that, we can be a difficult team to beat,” he said.
For now, the team is trying to find more ways to score and to take care of business in what Carlson described as an athletic, competitive league. “I like the progress of our team, but we still have our best basketball ahead of us,” he said. “We’re certainly not a finished product,” he added. What would it take to be No. 1, he was asked. “It takes a lot of mental toughness in this league, especially on the road,” he replied.
UCSD basketball players work hard for one another and to show their respect for Carlson, said Poppen, the guard. “He’s positive and he keeps us motivated,” the senior said. The team is far and away in a better spot than in previous years, he added. Athletes have learned Carlson’s system of play, said Poppen’s teammate Kim. With seven seniors, the team also has a wealth of experience to draw on. “I think our experience and leadership are going to be big factors that will help us win the conference,” Kim said.
On the women’s side, many experienced players graduated last year. Coach Elliott said she focused at the beginning of this season on team-building experiences that would help athletes come together. At their first retreat of the year, they carved out a mission statement and goals. Most had to do with trusting one another and holding one another responsible, said Osier. During a trip to Alaska, athletes went dog-sledding and visited the Santa Claus House, an attraction in the small town of North Pole.
Earl Edwards, athletics director at UCSD, says he hopes the Tritons will play other UC schools.
Recently, the team received a visit from Ron Larsen, a former UCSD volleyball coach, who was an assistant to the U.S. men’s volleyball Olympic team, which came home with a gold medal. In Beijing, Larsen became the interim coach after the head coach’s father-in-law was stabbed to death while sight-seeing. Larsen talked to students about adapting to difficult circumstances, or “becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable” as he put it.
While off the court the focus is on team spirit, on the court, the women’s squad is focused on defense. “It has been what we’ve depended on every night,” Coach Elliott said. Athletes practice for one hour to 1 h 45 minutes six days a week. All the hard work seems to have paid off. Elliott’s squad was undefeated for the first half of the season. Their goal this year is to win their conference and go on to the NCAA’s national tournament, the coach said.
“We want to win it all,” Elliott said. “We understand that it’s going to take a lot and it’s not guaranteed to happen.”
But Osier, the senior, said this year’s team can do it. “After every game, I believe that more and more,” she said.