For Seniors Charles Anderson, Lorenzo Keeler and Ryan Darling, this week’s contest against UC Irvine (13-16, 5-9 Big West) is more than just a game.
“For (Lorenzo Keeler), (Charles Anderson) and I, it is a culmination of our entire college career,” Darling said. “It is the last time we are going to be able to play in front of our Mott Gym fans, in Mott Gym.”
After years of practice, training and hard work the trio of seniors will play their final regular season game for the Mustangs (11-7, 7-8) this Saturday.
“This last game will bring back all the memories, all the sweat, blood and tears that we have spilled into Mott Gym,” Darling said.
Looking back on their tenure at Cal Poly, the group of seniors they have had nothing but positive memories.
Darling started this season primarily playing off the bench. After Will Donahue was ineligible, Darling saw his minutes sharply increase.
“It’s been a long journey,” Darling said. “No matter at what point of my career it’s been, it has been an always amazing experience.”
Like Darling, Anderson started this year on the bench, but with late season struggles, the senior was inserted into the starting line-up. Used for his lengthy defensive presence and his long range jump-shot, Anderson has helped his team down the stretch.
“It went by fast—that’s for sure—but I have enjoyed it,” Anderson said. “It has been a great four years.”
Keeler was the team-leading scorer last season. With the departure of Titus Shelton and Chaz Thomas, Keeler, the third-leading scorer in the Big West through conference play, found more opportunities to show of his scoring abilities this season.
“I had a great time at Cal Poly,” Keeler said. “I feel like there is no other place I’d rather be.”
As a team, the Mustangs have come a long way since their regular season finish last year. At this time last season, Cal Poly held a (7-20, 3-12) record and in terms of the Big West tournament, the Mustangs were on the outside looking in.
“I think (this year has) gone pretty good,” Keeler said. “It’s gone how we wanted it to go.”
At the start of this season, last year’s performances leaked into this season expectations. Cal Poly was projected to finish last in the Big West in numerous pre-season polls.
“We love that… we all fed of it, it was motivation,” Keeler said. “We know what type of team we can be if we all click and come together.”
Under new head coach Joe Callero, the Mustangs went 0-5 to start the season, but rebounded with a three-game winning streak.
“We were just really getting to know each other as a new team,” Keeler said. “After that we got it together as we go to know each other more and got closer together as a family.”
To start conference play, Cal Poly posted their best start in school history going 5-2 for the first seven games.
After a 73-72 win against Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly dropped five straight games.
This past weekend Cal Poly took on Big West front-runner UC Santa Barbara. Trailing 27-33 at the half, the Mustangs pieced together run after run to knock off the gauchos.
“It is March and this is when the madness happens,” Darling said.
What caused the difference in outcomes of the past two seasons?
“I think it’s just team chemistry,” Keeler said. “I think this year everybody came together … they know their roles and we know what we have to do to accomplish our goals.”
With the Big West conference tournament in sight, Cal Poly is hungry to beat the odds.
“We proved people wrong and we came together at the right time,” Keeler said. “We really feel like we can win this whole thing.”
While Cal Poly will likely be placed in one of the bottom four seeds, the Mustangs still have a chance to move up in the standings. With a win against UC Irvine, along with a Long Beach State and UC Davis loss, Cal Poly can clinch fourth place in the Big West and a bye week.
But standings aren’t important to Keeler.
“As long as we are competing and we are tough, I feel like we can win any game,” Keeler said.