Sunbirds overcome covid obstacles for an unbelievable season
During a year in which COVID-19 has limited much of what we can do, the Fresno Pacific men’s basketball team has found a way to overcome this abundance of obstacles. It is safe to say that this season will go down as unforgettable in more ways than one, because between breaking new school records and many players achieving high honor awards, our men’s basketball team played a historic season.
First team in school history to make the Division II NCAA tournament.
First league championship since joining Division II.
Aamondae Coleman is the 3rd all time on Fresno Pacific Men’s Basketball scoring list.
Adrian Antunez is the 5th all time on Fresno Pacific Men’s Basketball scoring list.
Tie for most Division II wins in a single season (only playing 15 Division II games in their 20-21 season).
Aamondae Coleman, Adrian Antunez and Nate Kendricks each named to the Pacific West’s Conference NorCal Team.
Norcal Pod Champions.
Perfect 8-0 record in pod play.
Undefeated at home.
Men’s Head Basketball Coach C.J. Haydock opened up about the willingness of his players to sacrifice parts of their life and maintain small social circles in order to keep their teammates safe. He also notes how his team’s sacrifice and discipline in closely-following both NCAA and CDC regulations have made their accomplishments more impressive.
“We really prided ourselves on our level of transparency and communication with our team, in terms of making sure everyone understood the science and burden of responsibility that our health came first. I think our COVID safety makes the accomplishment more impressive, because it requires a different level of toughness, focus and selflessness. If we did all this but had taken any shortcuts on our COVID safety, what’s that worth?” Haydock said.
Although this team and its coaching staff worked incredibly hard to achieve success, such a thing did not come overnight. Having accepted the Head Coach position back in 2016, Haydock has created a program with a group of men who brought about his vision of what the team could become. As many of the team’s players stayed loyal and optimistic from the start, their achievements this season are more than the making of school history, but also serve as a testament to the strength and fight of this team.
“This is a testament to everybody. It’s a testament to the administrators who trusted the path we were going to walk as coaches and the vision we laid out. It’s a testament to our coaching staff that we’re going to hang in there and be true to who we knew we wanted to be. It’s a testament to student athletes, to their faith and perseverance. The biggest reason we’re successful is because we bet on the right people,” Haydock said.
When asked what his favorite memory from this year was, Haydock couldn’t pick just one memory.
“It has to be hearing our name called. To see that reward for the people who invested in us and believed in us was overwhelming. But there’s also other stuff like the party in the locker room after we beat Azusa Pacific on our floor. There’s a ton of moments where individual guys stepped up like Garrett Cook carries us one game, Spencer Heimerdinger carries us one game, Nate Kendricks hits a big and one in one of the Academy of Art games,” Haydock said.
Adrian Antunez, point guard and captain for the men’s Basketball team, has believed in the team’s success from the start. A business management major, Antunez was apart of the first recruitment class in Haydock’s first year at Fresno Pacific. Having waited four years for their hard work to pay off, Antunez touches on what led their team to this point.
“I felt like we had all the right pieces to get there. Jake, Nehemiah and Toby [all former men’s basketball players] all had a big impact, and it’s unfortunate they don’t get to reap all the benefits that we do. We put our faith in coach Haydock and the coaching staff, and believed in them as much as they believed in us. But with the addition of new people overtime and people playing up in their roles, it felt like this year we finally had all the right pieces,” Antunez said.
A Valley native from Clovis West High School, Antunez serves as a huge inspiration for many. Having made his way onto the top 5 scoring list of all time for Fresno Pacific, named to the Pacific West’s Conference NorCal Team, and ranked second in the Pacwest’s total minutes, Antunez was a force to be reckoned with in his senior year.
“I think people should start looking about going to FPU, if they can go. FPU should be people from the valley’s first option and being undersized shouldn’t defer you from giving up. I hope people see the vision and use my story of being an undersized guard myself as inspiration,” Antunez said.
When asked what gave Antunez motivation during this year, when hope was often hard to find, his answer came easily.
“My family and Erika [his girlfriend] play the biggest role in my basketball career. Without them I’m not playing any basketball. Hearing my parents tell me that my little brother wants to grow up and be like me makes me feel like I’m doing something right. Having siblings who look up to you, family that is happy with who you are and what you’re doing, plus an amazing girlfriend who will support you in whatever you do, is the best cast I had during a very trying year,” Antunez said.
A mere two points shy of going further in the NCAA tournament, it is clear that this team will use their newfound experience, sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as motivation for next season. With each new milestone being broken and record being set, this team’s selflessness will build upon itself and play a large role in the upcoming season. Despite not knowing where the future of their season would lie back in September 2020, both the determination and readiness of players and coaches paid off. This team will certainly go down in FPU history.
Photo Credit: Fresno Pacific University Sunbird Athletics’s albums on Facebook and Matlyn Peden, official photographer for the department of athletics.
The team practicing at Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO, the day before the NCAA tournament.
Pictured left to right front row: Sean Nealon-Lino, Isaiah Spears, Jason Brooks, C.J. Haydock, Daniel Dyck, Aamondae Coleman, Jeremy Ray, Alejandro Mendibles, A.J. Kirby, Nate Kendricks, Adrian Antunez, Raine McKeython, Garrett Cook, Maurice Holmes, D.J. Searcy, and Nate McClurg.
Back row left to right: Alex Ferguson, Spencer Heimderdinger, Grant Highstreet, Jerry Razo, Zach Wallin, Jamal Briscoe and James Dienes.
Assistant coach Jason Brooks safely guides players in practice as he follows COVID protocols.
Head coach C.J. Haydock sanitizing the basketball before handing it back to his players. This is one of their most practiced protocols to disinfect for bacteria and protect their players.
Senior Adrian Antunez playing when the Sunbirds took on California Baptist.
Senior Aamondae Coleman with a finger roll for two points against the Academy of Art.
The Sunbirds’ third game of the season, where they played a non-conference game against D1 Santa Clara University. Due to COVID regulations, the game took place in Santa Cruz, CA at the Kaiser Permanente Arena. This arena is home of the Golden State Warriors G-league team, Santa Cruz Warriors.
Pictures from left to right: Adrian Antunez, James Dienes, Nick Damato, Alex Ferguson, Raine McKeython, Zach Wallin, Garrett Cook, Grant Highstreet, Jeremy Ray, Spencer Heimerdinger, Alejandro Mendibles, A.J. Kirby, Aamondae Coleman, Jamal Briscoe and Sean Nealon-Lino.
After Spencer Heimderinger scored a hook shot, he was fouled for a 3 point play. He is here seen in the middle, celebrating alongside fellow teammates Alex Ferguson (left) and A.J. Kirby (right) as they played the Academy of Art.
Senior Raine McKeython headed towards the basket against Fresno State.
Head coach C.J. Haydock speaking to his players during a timeout against Biola at the NCAA tournament.
Players left to right: A.J. Kirby, Nate Kendricks, Garrett Cook, Spencer Heimderdinger and Adrian Antunez.
Junior Nate Kendricks against the Academy of Art days after he achieved his career high 22 points against this same team.
The Men’s Basketball team received the 6th seed and final spot for the NCAA basketball tournament in Golden, CO. This was their first time having postseason play since becoming a Division II school back in 2013.
The Men’s basketball team were crowned the Norcal pod champions after defeating Dominican University on Friday, February 26th, in a 72-66 victory.
Author: Shyanne Mortimer | A & E Co-Editor