WINCHESTER — The Umpqua Community College men’s basketball team missed out on the opportunity to play for the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament title the past two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coach Daniel Leeworthy felt those were championship-caliber squads and they were talented and deep, finishing 25-4 and 16-1 overall respectively.
The 2021-22 team hopes to get a shot at the title.
“We could’ve won the NWAC the last two years and have all the parts to be a really good team again,” Leeworthy said. “I don’t know if we’re as good as those two teams, but we’re pretty close.”
The Riverhawks open their season this weekend, hosting the Umpqua Invitational. UCC meets the Rexburg United at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Fans will be allowed in the gym to watch the tournament, according to Leeworthy.
Umpqua has six players back returning from last season — 6-foot-9 sophomore Dante Sofia, 6-7 freshman Nathan Webb, 6-0 freshman Brig Schofield, 5-11 freshman Ean Smith, 6-7 freshman Marcus Sherwood and 6-10 freshman Collin Jeppson.
Webb was the leading scorer during the truncated 2021 spring season, averaging 16.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He poured in a career-high 36 points in a 104-99 overtime win over Lane in the South Region tournament championship game.
Sherwood averaged 12 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots.
“We’ve got some good returners and leadership,” Leeworthy said. “Mix them with some of the younger guys and we should be pretty good. We return all our big guys and we’re young with guards. (The guards) have been inconsistent, but they’re learning and getting better.
“We can go big and go small, and can be very versatile. Defense is going to be our strength, but we can put up points as well.”
The Riverhawks averaged 92.5 points and allowed 74.1 last season.
The recruiting class includes 6-0 sophomore Kell Schwers, 6-1 freshman Robbie Moore, 6-3 freshman Aaron Dolny, 6-3 freshman Jake Sampson, 6-0 freshman Jaden Schwab, 6-8 freshman Kane Hynes, 6-4 freshman Spencer Hathaway, 6-4 freshman Luka Suster and 6-0 freshman Talon Valdes.
“Our recruiting class is good,” Leeworthy said. “Our starting lineup is not set. Everyone will get a chance to play this weekend and prove themselves in game situations.”
Umpqua is scheduled to meet College of the Siskiyous at 4 p.m. Friday. The Riverhawks face Treasure Valley at 6 p.m. Saturday and play Yakima Valley at 1 p.m. Sunday.