Strictly from a numbers point of view, the improvement demonstrated by the Linfield men’s basketball program was not always obvious or apparent. Yet, a close examination between the lines reveals a young program very much on the rise under new coach Shanan Rosenberg.
Armed with a roster featuring two seniors and five juniors, Rosenberg did as well as any first-year coach could reasonably be expected after taking over a deflated program that had hit rock bottom. The Wildcats completed the 2013-14 season with a record of 5-20 and 3-13 against Northwest Conference foes.
Rosenberg’s debut season concluded with a 20-point victory over Pacific Lutheran. The Wildcats moved up one spot in the NWC standings from the previous year, taking with them some positive momentum into the offseason. Linfield also scored conference wins over George Fox, which finished third in the league, and Willamette.
“Our freshmen really grew up, and in particular, their growth was evident during the last 2-3 weeks of the season,” said Rosenberg. “Our goal was to be playing our best basketball in February, and by the end of the season, we were.”
As with most teams trying to climb the ladder of success, the season was not without some tribulation. At various points, three starters – Kevin Hurley, Mason Rodby and Adam Myren – went down with season-ending injuries. Yet, through it all, the Wildcats refused to fold their tent.
“With the difficult schedule we had, most young, inexperienced teams would have imploded,” said Rosenberg. “I’m proud of how our guys forged on and kept fighting. The way they aspired to be their best at the end of the season speaks volumes about the character and integrity of the players on our team.”
The season began with two wins in the first four games before the ‘Cats spun helplessly in the arms of a 13-game losing skid. An inspiring 74-72 win over George Fox made the losing streak a distant memory. Linfield ended its season with wins in two of the final three contests.
“The program is moving in the right direction,” said Rosenberg. “Competing with an extremely young team, we definitely saw improvement. I’m very happy with the way the team progressed.
With little inside presence to take pressure off the Wildcats’ outside shooters, Linfield averaged a conference-low 62.5 points per game and ranked last in total rebounds. But the ‘Cats were among the NWC’s most efficient teams from the free throw line, ranking third in percentage at 72.5, and from outside the 3-point line, hitting 8.6 long-range shots per game.
Ryan Potter, a streak-shooting freshman guard, was the only Wildcat to average in double figures in scoring at 10.5 points per game. Chris Dirks was the team’s leading rebounder (4.6), while point guard Ryan Cali averaged 2.2 assists to go along with 6.8 points.
Freshman guard Tanner Brill was steady and consistent, averaging 7.6 points and 2.1 rebounds. Another freshman, Jackson Gion, played well down the stretch. Rodby, a developing freshman center, was just starting to feel comfortable with the college game before he was sidelined.
Cory Hendryx, one of two just graduating seniors, served as a stabilizing presence throughout the year. Hendryx saved his best performance for his final game, scoring 14 points and grabbing five rebounds and two steals against PLU.
“Dirks played bigger than his size,” said Rosenberg. “I’m happy for Hendryx and the way he ended his career with a big game.”
Rosenberg understands the process of returning the Linfield men’s basketball program back to legitimacy won’t happen overnight. He remains as commited to building Linfield back into a winner as the day he signed on for the job.
“As a coach, I really love it here at Linfield. I feel good about the direction of the program and I’m confident and optimistic about the future,” he said. “I’m working day and night to give our team more balance so that we can rise up and compete for one of the top spots in the conference.”