Preseason Video Interviews | Montreal Tour Recap
ELMIRA, N.Y. -- After playing a trio of exhibition games in Montreal last month, the Elmira College men's basketball team is eagerly awaiting its first game that will count towards its win-loss record. The 2017-18 campaign tips off on the road on Wednesday, November 15, at 6:00 p.m., when the Soaring Eagles take on the Keuka Wolves.
Despite back-to-back seasons that produced single-digit wins, there is a renewed sense of optimism in the EC locker room, in part because of a large crop of fresh faces and the success the team found during its preseason excursion north of the border. Unlike past preseasons, Soaring Eagles began practicing two weeks early to prepare for a five-day stay in Quebec. In addition to some sight-seeing, Elmira faced some intense competition in games against pre-university programs and came away with some positive results.
"I'm excited where we're at right now," said Head Coach Randie Torgalski. "We got a great head start with our trip to Montreal and a couple of extra weeks of practice in there. I think that's benefitting us right now and put us in a good spot to be ready to start our season."
Torgalski added, "Playing the caliber of athlete and the caliber of basketball player that we played up in Montreal really pushed our guys a little bit to test where they're at, forced us to focus more on the details and really gave us an idea of where we needed to go when we got back from Montreal."
In the preseason opener on October 20, the Purple and Gold gave Thetford Academy – a prep program which boasts the likes of Syracuse recruit Quincy Guerrier and won a provincial title a year ago – a run for its money despite a three-point loss. Elmira then earned a hard-fought victory, 77-74, in its second game against Champlain College Saint-Lambert the following night. While the Soaring Eagles frustrated the Cavaliers early, and quickly sprung out to a 17-7 advantage, the hosts clawed their way back to take a slim lead late in the fourth quarter. The Soaring Eagles displayed their resiliency by regaining the lead and draining their free throws in the final minutes to secure the win.
Not only was the competition in Montreal fierce, but the team chemistry developed off the court should go a long way for the EC men as well.
"Our juniors and seniors this year are doing a very good job of involving everybody and wanting to be around everybody, and the younger guys are eating it up," Torgalski said. "It's helping us on the court. That's why every day it's loud, there's energy and we're ready to roll. It makes it much more fun to be on the team and be around the team."
Talent runs deep for Elmira at the guard positions in 2017-18 with seven returners and five newcomers. Among the leaders at the point are junior standout Justin Porrett '19 and second-year man Jeremy Every '20. Porrett, who is also in line to see minutes as a two-guard, averaged double-digit points in each of his first two collegiate seasons and boasts a career average of 10.6 points per game. As the floor general of the offense, the Dumont, New Jersey, native dished out a career-high 114 assists last season and a repeat performance would pencil his name among EC's all-time leaders in career dimes. The 6-foot-1-inch Porrett has been given the green light to run the floor and push the tempo in a new run-and-gun offense Elmira will unveil against Keuka.
Every came on strong as a freshman, earning his first start in the season opener at Hilbert. He quickly captured Empire 8 Conference Rookie of the Week honors, this after back-to-back games with a season-high 12 points in late November. The Sacramento, California, product is not only a quick and creative ball handler, but his stroke from mid-range is one of the smoothest on the team.
Spelling Porrett and Every on the ball will be a pair of freshmen: Isiah Charles '21 and Andrew Ryan '21. An athletic 5-foot-10-inch guard, Charles will help push the pace in the fast-paced offensive scheme, and Ryan, who stands an inch taller, can be counted on to contribute points from the position.
Also returning to this year's roster are Anthony Abate '19 and 3-point shooting specialists Alex Ischiropoulos '20 and Jesse Adelson '20. Abate has seen time on the court in all 50 games across his first two seasons, including 12 starts last winter. The lanky 6-foot-3-inch guard from Orange Park, Florida, produced career bests with 5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in 2016-17, highlighted by four consecutive outings with double-digit points to open the year and his first-ever double-double in a win over Vassar. Ischiropoulos and Adelson were second and third on the team in 3-point makes a year ago with 38 and 21, respectively, and will look to do more of the same from downtown in 2017-18.
Depth in the backcourt will come in the form of senior Connor Bays '18, junior Alex Rosen '19 and newcomers Darien Perez '21, Billy Smith '20 and Mason Weir '21. Bays, one of just three seniors on this year's squad, will look for a breakout campaign in his final season, this after making a career-high 23 appearances as a junior. Third-year guard Rosen performed well in Elmira's final preseason exhibition in Montreal against Vanier College, and if his jump shot remains consistent throughout the season, he could be in line for more minutes off of the bench.
Torgalski's newly-implemented offense is designed to take advantage his team's athleticism and ability to stretch the floor in absence of bulk in the post. Although the Soaring Eagles lack the size of a true big man, most of EC's forwards present mismatches for opposing defenses because of their shooting skills. Stretching the floor will also open running and passing lanes for Elmira's guards.
"We have plenty of guys that can get up and down the court, we have plenty of guys that can put the ball in the basket, so we're going to try to take advantage of it," Torgalski explained. "We may not be as big as we've been in the past, but I think we're going to be big across the board at times with a lot of lineups that are tall and long and lanky. We're going to try to spread the court and try to put a lot of points on the board."
Returning post players Hayden Harkins '18, Henry Cuffee '19 and Kyle McCreery '20 all fit the mold of a combo forward. In Harkins, the Soaring Eagles boast one of the top 3-point marksmen in the league. The 6-foot-5-inch forward from Tampa, Florida, enters his final season fifth all-time in program history with 178 treys and paced the Empire 8 with 2.9 3-pointers per game as a junior. As a senior, Harkins will be turned to for leadership on and off the court, as well as those deep buckets that get the entire bench on its feet.
Cuffee is a dynamic playmaker and could prove to be a sparkplug for the Soaring Eagles in all facets of the game, as long as he can remain clear of foul trouble. The 6-foot-5-inch junior hauled in a team-high 5.2 rebounds per game and was third in scoring with 8.8 points. He gained additional experience guarding bigger players during the trip to Montreal, where he also displayed a jump shot that can score from any distance and the aggressiveness to take it to the rack.
The 6-foot-8-inch McCreery was the only freshman to see time in all 25 games last winter, where he flashed the ability to hit the occasional corner 3-point field goal. With his height and wingspan, the Wurtsboro, New York, native will need to utilize his reach and attack the glass more prominently as a sophomore.
Freshman Shawn Backus '21 will contend with the upperclassmen for starter's minutes from day one, as the coaching staff has raved about his athleticism and play-making ability throughout the preseason. The first-year small forward from Hamden, Connecticut, is equal parts agile and strong, with a shooter's touch and the fearlessness to drive through the paint. He looked the part during his first quarter of action donning the Purple and Gold in Montreal, scoring consecutive buckets with a lay-in and a steal on Thetford's ensuing possession that resulted in a coast-to-coast finish.
Paul Bischoff '18, Joseph Amoddio '21 and Jacob Funderburk '21 will come off of the bench to provide depth in the post. Amoddio, a 6-foot-6-inch freshman from Wethersfield, Connecticut, has the frame to contribute immediately as a rebounder and on defense against opposing big men, which could earn him a healthy chunk of minutes in relief in his debut season.
Elmira opens the 2017-18 season on the road against the Wolves of Keuka on Wednesday, November 13, at 6:00 p.m. Although the Wolves won just five games a year ago, expect a much tougher fight from this year's pack. Keuka added a pair of junior transfers in 6-foot-8-inch Ryder Mansfield and 6-foot-5-inch Matt Bolton to boost their play in the paint. Mansfield comes from Division II Ohio Dominican, while Bolton returns to the hardwood after spending the past two years playing baseball at Onondaga Community College.
Despite being separated by only a 75-minute drive, it has been nearly nine years since the Soaring Eagles last faced Keuka, a North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) affiliate. EC owns a sizeable 16-8 lead in the all-time series, which began in December of 1988, but had a seven-game win streak snapped by the Wolves last time they met on November 21, 2008, in Keuka Park, New York.
"Get better every day, hopefully play our best ball at the end of the year, and just have a lot of fun," Torgalski said when asked about his expectations for the season. "I think that's one of our mottos this year, just having more fun and getting after it and enjoying what we're doing."
2017-18 Season Preview: Elmira College Men's Basketball
Preseason Video Interviews | Montreal Tour Recap