Crusaders claim CCS crown over Monarchs

Varsity+basketball+players+and+coaches+celebrate+winning+the+CCS+Championship+on+Feb.+25+over+the+Mitty+Monarchs.

Noah David '22

Varsity basketball players and coaches celebrate winning the CCS Championship on Feb. 25 over the Mitty Monarchs.

Santino Woo '22, Arts and Entertainment Editor

As Antonio Pusateri ’22 softly laid the ball into the hoop with less than a minute remaining, the Archbishop Riordan bench and crowd exploded with joyful emotions knowing the inevitable was about to happen.

The final buzzer sounded and the Archbishop Riordan Varsity Basketball team began to run across the court, hugging and celebrating as they squashed Archbishop Mitty’s dreams of capturing a third Central Coast Section (CCS) Open Division Championship in a row on Feb. 18, at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.

Led by King-Njhsanni Wilhite’s ’23 game-high 29 points and a combined 26 points from Marcellus Edwards ’22, Quinton Bundage ’24, and Jasir Rencher ’25, the Crusaders came home with the CCS Open Division Championship trophy and avenged their overtime loss last year in the same championship game against the Monarchs.

With this win, the Crusaders now have 16 CCS Championships. Center Brendan Passanisi-Boullet ’22 described winning the championship as “surreal.”

“I could hear my family cheering behind me, I saw the student section going crazy and it was just a surreal feeling, especially since this season was so grueling, with some weeks having four games.To know that we beat everyone else and won the CCS Championship is just a surreal feeling I’m still wrapping my head around.””

— Brendan Passanisi-Boullet '22

He continued talking about the locker room energy by saying, “As far as after the game in the locker room, it was about as crazy as you can expect. Hugging, yelling, maybe some crying. We were all so ecstatic to avenge last year’s team and it was just a perfect moment.”

This season has been nothing short of remarkable for the Crusaders as starting point guard Whilhite broke two records this season. He currently has the most points scored in a single-season with 319 points and the highest scoring average in a league season with 22.86 points-per-game.

The Archbishop Riordan Boys’ Varsity Basketball team looked a lot different than it did last year, after impactful players such as Mor Seck ’22 and Zion Sensely ’23 transferred to Prolific Preparatory in Napa. With players like Lee Hubbard III ’21 and Robert Vaihola ’21 graduating and moving onto the college level, the varsity team seemed to be quite undersized, which presented a new challenge for the coaching staff.

Head Coach Joseph Curtin ’01 addressed the topic by saying, “You have to coach to your talent. And so, I’ve never just run the
same system no matter what players I have and all that. I think a great coach adjusts and coaches to his talent and what skills they have. So, yeah we’re doing things a bit different, but the message and fundamentals remain the same…it’s just a little bit of the x’s and o’s that change with the personnel.”

There were a lot of new faces to the varsity team this year with three new transfer students joining the squad. Talented senior, Antonio Pusateri ’22, had to sit out all of last season after transferring from Abraham Lincoln High School due to WCAL transfer rules. Christian Wise ’23 is an athletic forward at 6 feet 5 inches who brought much needed height and rebounding to the team after transferring from Heritage High School in Brentwood. Jasir Rencher ’25 is a talented 6 feet 5 inch freshman who brought some height and offense to the table. All of these new players seemed to continuously improve throughout the season and
eventually discovered their role in the system for the overall benefit of the team.

A lot of players on the Junior Varsity team last year like Zach Jones ’23 and Isaiah Chala ’23 got their chance to play at the varsity level for the first time and were definitely a big part of their depth. The returning players – Quinton Bundage ’24, Achilles Woodson ’23, Whilite, Edwards, Passanisi-Boullet, and Mark Barer ’22 – all sought to have a bigger role in leadership for the new players and compete at the highest level with some of the best teams in the WCAL.

At the start of the season, Edwards even stated that his goals were to win CCS and have a run at state. One down, one to go. With the addition of new players, Coach Curtin also found some new coaches. One in particular who had an immediate impact was Coach Kareem Guilbeaux, who was previously the Junior Varsity head coach for the St. Ignatius College Preparatory Boys’ Basketball team. Having Coach Kareem has been a big help,” Coach Curtin explained.

“I’ve known Coach Kareem since I was 10 years old. We were in the same class, we played against each other, played with each other on various league teams growing up. So, I’ve known him for a long time…And having been players and coaches in the WCAL, we kind of have a great understanding and knowledge of the league, what it takes to win.”

He added, “And coaching against each other on the JV level for a long time, for many years, knowing how good of a coach he is, being in those battles with him, it was great to have him on board, and he’s been a big, big boost to the coaching staff.”

With such a new team, Coach Curtin and the rest of the coaches spent lots of time and effort preparing their players for more advanced competition in the WCAL. They participated in highly-competitive tournaments over the past summer in places like Arizona and San Antonio. Helping to lead the way was Edwards, who has been a part of Riordan basketball since freshman year. He started out playing Freshman A and has since worked his way up to the Varsity level. In his final season, Edwards has appreciated the Varsity coaching staff, as he has felt the most comfortable this season being out on the court.

“The coaches have uplifted my confidence this year, especially by telling me to shoot the ball,” Edwards explained. “They’ve put me in a position to help the team succeed this year. My experience on varsity as opposed to Freshman and JV has been great, definitely some ups and downs. There’s also definitely a difference between JV and Varsity and I think this year, I’ve been more comfortable on the Varsity level.”

With this confidence, leadership, and experience, Riordan was able to come out on top in the WCAL and now will compete for the CIF State Championship.