Senior leadership is a common catchphrase for coaches, but seldom can it be measured in the way this Westfield State men’s basketball team has captured the essence of it.
Armed with a starting lineup that included all five of the team’s seniors, and a will to win, the Owls launched on a streak of 15 wins in 16 games, rolling through the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference with an 11-1 record, winning the post-season tournament, and earning the school’s first National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament bid since 1993. Westfield State lost a tight game to the fourth-ranked team in the country, Babson College, in the NCAA tournament, but the journey was a rewarding one en route to the Owls’ 20-7 overall record.
With three seniors, Grant Cooper and “The Dans” (Tessier and Johnson), and two transfers, Robby Jones and Andre King, the Owls built a heavyweight contender that brought the season to a positive close.
“It’s been unbelievable; it’s been a ride, you know,” says Cooper. “Being able to grow with these guys, learn from the guys before me, and try to take what they taught me and pass it on to the younger guys has been a ride.”
Johnson says Coach Rich Sutter may have taught him as much off the court as on. “It’s been awesome,” he says. “The best four years of my life, for sure.”
“I have loved it here,” says Tessier. “A lot of ups and downs, but Coop, Johnson and I came in and stuck it out for four years. Coach is very energetic and wants us to bring it 100 percent of the time, and that’s what we need in a coach.”