A big weekend could be in store for the men's and women's basketball teams at C.W. Post. The school is hosting the East Coast Conference Tournament and the home teams could emerge with bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Men's coach Tim Cluess started this season by turning aside any suggestion that this team could approach the success of a year ago. A 30-1 record and a trip to the Elite Eight in Division II was a once in a lifetime opportunity, he reasoned.
After a 3-4 start, Post is 22-5 and a return to the NCAA Tournament is within reach.
"To get back would be awesome," Cluess said. "Obviously, that's what our goal is. That's what it is every year. If we can do that, it is another great statement for our program. We have a legitimate chance at it."
Post has won 42 straight at home, 14 this season. "I think it's great what we've done, but these kids haven't done [all of it]," said Cluess, who was voted the ECC co-coach of the year along with Bridgeport's Mike Ruane. "They haven't won all 42 here, they've had their share this year."
Post, with a first round bye, will meet NYIT or Molloy on Saturday.
The familiar names from last season - Jonathan Schmidt and Nick Carter - have graduated, but Cluess has gotten plenty of production from Central Connecticut transfer Aaron Hall (16.4 points per game) and freshman guard Jonathan Kohler (14.0). Nemanja Jokic (15.2) has assumed a starting role, while Roberto Macklin and Gil Montalvo became team leaders.
"I told most of the new guys this is a tough week coming up, this is championship week," Montalvo said. "This is what separates the men from the boys, come ready to play . . . We had a lot of new guys, no one thought we'd be here right now. I thought we were going to have a down season but guys believed in the system, believed in the coach. Look at where we are now."
Kohler, who redshirted last season, said, "I was around all year, so I got to see everything that happened behind the scenes. We know what it takes to get there. We know what level we have to be on."
Making the NCAA's, Kohler said, "would definitely be a big accomplishment because this was supposed to be our down year, our rebuilding year."
Holding home court is the key.
"Coach has it embedded in our heads that you don't lose at home," Kohler said. "You have to protect your home court no matter what."
Cluess added, "I love the fact that we have the opportunity to be here on our court. The belief they have in the home court, with the fans and the way we play on this floor, I think anything is possible here ... We didn't work this hard all year just to call it a season now. We want to win it and we want to get there again."
The Post women also will benefit from the atmosphere, as coach Deirdre Moore said, "Just to be in a familiar environment with our own locker room, getting to sit on our own bench. But in terms of playing, we have to go out and play."
Post has the ECC's player of the year in junior guard Jana Aiken (16.6). Guard Felicia Joyner (12.8) and Gina Catherall (10.3) have also been key ingredients.
While Post and Bridgeport are expected to meet in the men's final on Sunday, the women's field is wide open. Queens. Bridgeport, Molloy and Dowling all have a legitimate shot at the title. Post (19-8) plays Queens (6-21) Wednesday night in the first round.
"I thought we were the best team in the conference," Joyner said. "I still think we are."