Calling the 2016-17 men’s basketball season “significant” and “extremely rewarding,” Linfield coach Shanan Rosenberg came away satisfied with his team’s collective effort and the rewards that followed.
“The team set out with goals of posting a winning record, making the conference playoffs and being in a legitimate fight for a championship,” said Rosenberg. “These were all accomplished.”
With an overall record of 15-11, Linfield earned its first winning season in nearly a decade, climbing from seventh place in the Northwest Conference last season to third place this year. That earned the Wildcats one of four berths to the NWC playoff tournament.
In recognition of his team’s tremendous growth, Rosenberg was chosen as the NWC’s Coach of the Year, becoming the first Linfield basketball coach in 16 years to receive the league’s coaching award.
Senior Kyle Maloof, who led the team in scoring and rebounding at 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest, was picked as a second team NWC all-star. Guard Riley Bruil received honorable mention acclaim after supplying 9.8 points and 2.5 assists a night.
The Wildcats’ achievements went deeper than awards and statistics.
“Our most significant accomplishment was our competitive maturation, our personal and emotional growth, and the galvanization that occurred in our relationships,” said Rosenberg. “We encountered a good deal of unfortunate adversities and this group overcame a number of hurdles to find their best at the right time of year. The whole program grew as a result.”
On the court, Linfield forged season sweeps of NWC rivals Lewis & Clark, Pacific and Willamette. And the Wildcats were extremely competitive in games against Whitman, the league’s eventual champion, and Whitworth, the runner-up, playing those teams close well into the second half before wearing down. Linfield won three of its final four conference games to secure its first playoff spot since 2010.
“We got to taste the playoffs and be in the championship race, both of which were very significant,” said Rosenberg. “I'm confident the experience is going to impact our off-season work and the progress of our program. We want to be in that arena every year, vying for championships and developing young men.”
Though Maloof and Bruil were Linfield’s statistical leaders, senior Mason Rodby was considered the glue that held the team together through the peaks and valleys. As Rosenberg’s only four-year player, Rodby provided the stability and mental fortitude Linfield required in order to break new ground. In a career marked with on-again, off-again injuries, Rodby remained loyal to the team and was playing his best basketball as his senior year drew to a close.
“No one was more vital to this season’s outcome than Mason. He grew immensely over his four years here,” praised Rosenberg. “It’s not been an easy four years for Mason and to see him playing so well and leaving such an impact on our program is very rewarding as a coach and father. I'm really proud of him.”
Maloof, Rodby, and the Wildcats’ third graduating senior, Austin Daniels, were instrumental in spearheading Linfield’s evolution, noted Rosenberg.
“Each of our three seniors had significant impacts this year and I am very proud and grateful for their contributions. Their play and maturity was a big part of our progress this year. They will be missed.”
In the end, Linfield’s roster was an unselfish cast of interchangeable pieces, with all 15 players buying into the team philosophy and playing hard for one another. Rosenberg’s assistant coaches, Mickey Polis and Ryan Cali, also proved themselves indispensible, said Rosenberg.
“Mickey and Ryan did an incredible job of coaching and managing this year. Along with the players, they deserve a lot of credit, I am really blessed to work with so many special and talented people.”
It seems it seems only a matter of time until Linfield is again perched atop the Northwest Conference heap.
“I'm super excited about our recruits right now and putting together what could be another outstanding team for 2017-18 and beyond,” said Rosenberg as he looked ahead to his fifth season in McMinnville. “There’s no doubt we’ve raised the bar.”