Westmont Men’s Basketball, Landon Boucher | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Junior forward Cade Roth’s desperation three-pointer from nearly 30 feet away on Friday ripped through the net with moments remaining in regulation, sending the Westmont men’s basketball team and visiting Concordia into overtime.

It was a pure shot and a moment of competitive excellence that sent a shock wave through the Warriors’ socially distant bench, but seconds later there was nearly silence. In fact, after the buzzer sounded and the two teams retreated to their huddles to prepare for overtime, you could hear a pin drop in Murchison gymnasium if not for the music being played.

Clutch shots hit differently in the COVID-19 era.

“I think our team would want students, alumni, and Westmont supporters at our games, but we’re just trying to make the best of it right now,” said Westmont first-year head coach Landon Boucher. “We love when Murchison gym is packed. We miss that for sure, but we also know the seriousness of COVID-19.”

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Concordia, a Division 2 team, eventually gained control in double overtime and Westmont suffered a 101-99 defeat, but for Boucher and his team, playing the game was a victory after the Warriors have been forced to cancel six of eight contests thus far this season due to the pandemic.

“Overall, to get to play against a quality opponent like this at home was really fun,” Boucher said. “We came out of it on the side that we didn’t want to, but I think this is a great opportunity for our guys to grow as a team.”

Boucher is taking over for the legend John Moore, who led the Warriors to overwhelming success over his 27 years at the helm of the program. Moore was named the 2019-20 NAIA coach of the year and won 588 games during his tenure.

Moore recruited Boucher to play at Westmont from 2010 to 2012. In subsequent years, Boucher worked his way up to head coach at San Marcos High, where he led the Royals to the CIF-SS Division 2A championship in 2018 before joining Moore’s staff as an assistant.

Boucher immersed himself in recruiting and spearheaded the effort to build out Westmont’s current roster. His knowledge of the high school ranks paid immediate dividends and resulted in the recruitment of players such as sophomore guard Jared Brown, whom Boucher coached against while at San Marcos.

In the middle of it all was Westmont’s current athletic director, Dave Odell, who was the San Marcos High head coach before Boucher and brought him into that program. He later entrusted him with Westmont’s men’s basketball program.

“Landon and I go a long way back, and we’re making sure he is supported,” Odell said. “I think the hard thing is that all the things you think your first year would look like don’t look like that anymore. He is handling it quite well in my opinion.”

Uncertainty has been the only constant for Westmont since their 97-79 exhibition loss to Division 1 Cal State Northridge on November 25. On December 4, the team took a bus up to Stockton to take on University of the Pacific before finding out the day of the game about a positive COVID-19 test within the Tigers’ program that forced a cancellation.

“Obviously our guys would have loved to play that game, but driving up there, practicing, and driving back was better than sitting in their dorm rooms doing nothing.” Odell said. “I think everybody has a pretty good attitude about it.”

Future scheduling remains fluid for Westmont as the next game on the schedule is currently set for January 9, 2021, against Vanguard. It is likely that they will find more games to play in the meantime. The game against Concordia was scheduled only two days before it was played, and Boucher has had many programs reach out to schedule last-minute games.

Above all, Boucher and his players are grateful for the opportunity to practice and play the game they love. “It’s a really interesting time, but I think more than anything I’m just thankful to be in the situation that I am,” Boucher said. “There are many situations where you can pout and worry about the stuff that’s tough, but I’ve been really trying to maintain a sense of gratitude to be able to coach such a good group of guys.”

Westmont’s testing protocols for basketball, which is considered a high-risk sport under the states’ guidelines, require testing of coaches and players three times a week. All participants must also have a negative test within 48 hours of game time.

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