The young guns have begun to click under new head coach Dan Engelstad.
The Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team has picked up its first two wins of the season in back-to-back victories against Wilson College and American University, bringing the team back on track after a rocky start.
The wins are Engelstad’s first as the bench boss for The Mount, and after navigating the waters of its toughest stretch of the season by facing some of the nation’s top teams on the road, the squad has come out the other side stronger and ready for more challenges.
With The Mount sporting an entire roster of underclassmen, the team was expecting to deal with struggles playing as a complete team, but the progress thus far has been apparent, and the Moutaineers are poised for a strong second half of the season.
“If you look at where we started, from the summer to where we are now, just the improvement has been considerable,” Engelstad said. “We’re competing at a higher level.”
Fortunately for Mount St. Mary’s, their first in-conference game does not come until the new year, giving the team more valuable time to cultivate the chemistry and consistency needed to compete in crucial games against the league’s toughest opponents.
Consistency has been a major point of focus for the team, heading into the most important part of the season. The ability to create a lead and continue to push the pace through the second half has been emphasized through the locker room and looks to be a key factor in the success of this young team.
“The biggest struggle we’re having is putting it together for a full 40 minutes, and that’s something with the youth,” Engelstad said. “We’re trying to close our gaps and big runs from the opponent.”
With the team securing some momentum from the team’s recent resurgence, there seems to be a sense of excitement throughout the group for what is to come.
“Our season is broken down into three seasons,” Engelstad said. “You have non-conference, conference games, and playoffs, so the fact that we’ve battled against some really high level opponents bodes well for us going into the games where the competition isn’t as strong as we’ve faced.”
The road difficulties and strength of schedule during the early weeks of the season may end up playing right into the hands of The Mount, allowing Engelstad’s squad to head into conference matchups carrying confidence and a level of experience competing against world-class talent. “We feel like we’re battle tested,” he said.
Individual performances have given the team waves of momentum, but as The Mount turns the page into 2019, developing that effort and experience into closing out games with a vicegrip on the lead will prove that the hard work, day in and day out, is finally paying off.
“There’s a lot of optimism in our group in what we can accomplish in the league,” Engelstad said. “We just know that if we’re going to do anything, we’ve got to keep getting better every day, every practice and every game, and there’s a great opportunity to keep improving.”
Sophomore Jalen Gibbs scored a career-high 30 points in the team’s first win of the season over Wilson College.
Photo by Blair Garrett