The 2016-17 Shippensburg University men’s basketball team is off to a hot start, tallying wins at a rapid pace.
SU won its first seven games this season, which stands as an SU record for the most consecutive wins to start a season.
Past seasons have not always been perfect for the Raiders, as SU is just three years removed from a three-win season. Last season was the Raiders’ best in recent memory, as they advanced to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Tournament, before falling to Mercyhurst University in the semifinals.
“We’ve learned a lot over the last few years,” SU head coach Chris Fite said. “From our three-win season three years ago, to building it up to .500 and then last year’s run, I think a lot of the guys have been through that. They understand what it takes for us to get where we were last year and what it takes to go further.”
Fite believes that the team’s focus is essential for its continued growth.
“I really think we do a good job of keeping our focus and taking it one game at a time,” Fite said. “We certainly haven’t done anything different this year, our approach is the same, our competitiveness day in and day out hasn’t changed.”
The Raiders have been led this season by junior forward Dustin Sleva, who is picking up right where he left off last year. Sleva led the PSAC in double-doubles last season with 16, and he already registered six through the first seven games this season. Sleva currently averages 20.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
“It’s an unbelievable start for us but our goal isn’t to go 7–0, it is to win PSACs,” Sleva said. “Even though it’s a good start to our year, that’s not what we’re striving for.”
Alongside Sleva is senior guard Abe Massaley who has been extremely productive, averaging 12.6 points per game while tallying 39 assists through seven games. Justin McCarthur has been useful as well, especially against Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he scored a season-high 21 points. The Raiders have also watched sophomore guard Antonio Kellem come into his own as he is averaging 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
The Raiders have been successful, even without a lot of depth this season. The Raiders’ traditional rotation consists of seven players, due to multiple injuries, with the key one being an injury to starter Manny Span.
“Everyone on the team is bringing something different to the table. We have five guys averaging double-digits right now and any given night one of them could get 20,” Fite said. “In saying that, they are all very unselfish. If they aren’t in the spotlight or they aren’t the one getting the points it doesn’t matter to them and that’s been a huge key to us getting to where we’re at.”
Another standout for the Raiders this season is freshman John Castello. Castello, who was thrust into action when Span was injured, has been phenomenal through his first seven collegiate games. Castello started five games in Span’s place and played in all seven of the Raiders’ contests. He currently averages 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. Castello was also named PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Week twice this season.
“He’s been great. We always knew he was going to be really good in this conference and he would complement the players that we have,” Fite said. “Unfortunately, Manny got hurt and that threw John into the deep end, but he certainly has responded well and he’s been a nice addition.”
“It’s been great. I wasn’t sure what my role would be coming in,” Castello said. “Unfortunately Manny went down and I got the opportunity to start. I’m just trying to do what I can to help out the team.”
With the Raiders’ torrid start to the 2016-17 season, the goal of reaching the conference title and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament do not seem so out of reach.
The Raiders, 7–0, 3–0 PSAC, will look to stay undefeated this weekend as they travel to California, Pennsylvania to matchup with California University of Pennsylvania. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.