The Master's College
Men's Hoops are on the Upswing
March, 2012 - Issue #89
This is Leif Karlberg's third season playing at The Master's College.

In the first two years, it was a rarity for people to be talking about his Mustangs basketball team. But this season, professors at the private Christian school are mentioning the team. On the winter break, people were showing up more than usual at Bross Gym, despite the fact that many kids went home for the holidays. And even some of those kids, away from the Newhall campus, were texting Karlberg about the success of the Mustangs.

"There's not a place or atmosphere I'd rather play in," says the junior guard from Alaska.

The Master's College men's basketball team, which plays the highest level of basketball in the Santa Clarita Valley as an NAIA Division I team, has experienced unparalleled success in 2011-12 under the six-year guidance of head coach Chuck Martin.

In the second week of January, the Mustangs entered the NAIA Top 25 for the first time since February 2010 - a season that ended up seeing TMC slump out the year. And though that ranking lasted just a week, due to the Mustangs losing consecutive heartbreaks, including one to one of the nation's top programs in Concordia, the program is clearly on the upswing.

With a strong core that is expected to return next season - Karlberg, junior guard Devin Dyer and junior center Paul Brown, along with nine other underclassmen - the Number-16 ranking the Mustangs attained could just be the beginning.

"Maybe now we can establish this program where you think of The Master's College as one of the best programs in the country that makes the [NAIA] tournament every year," Martin says.

"The NUMBER-16 ranking the Mustangs attained could just
be the beginning."

But it's been a challenging path to get to this point. In Martin's five previous seasons, his teams went 74-79 with a record of 13-18 overall last season and a Golden State Athletic Conference mark of 6-14.

Martin took over the program in 2006 from 13-season head coach Bill Oates. The Master's College decided not to renew Oates' contract after the 2005-06 season, which angered some alumni, including its most prominent former player Mike Penberthy, a former Los Angeles Laker.

Martin's restoration project came with more challenges, namely on the recruiting end. The Master's College is very selective in the type of student it takes. First and foremost, its incoming students must have a strong foundation in the Christian faith. That limits the pool from which Martin can recruit.
On many occasions, he has equated the GSAC to the NCAA's top basketball conference - The Big East. So Martin has to compete with those ultra-competitive schools, who he adds aren't as strict in their adherence to recruiting kids whose priorities are faith-based.

"It's been challenging," Martin says of the recruiting part. "It occupies most of my waking hours."

But he hasn't sought out change from the admission requirements for his athletes. Yet there is an expectation for winning at TMC.

The men's basketball team brings in the most fans and most attention to the school, so the school believes in the importance of on-the-court success as well.

"We want to be competitive. We're not going to have an athletic department here at The Master's College because that's what colleges do," says TMC Athletic Director Steve Waldeck, who took over the job last August. "We are definitely not emphasizing the competitive over the character and the spiritual life, but it's a very close second."

There were some other challenges also affecting TMC hoops behind the scenes. Over a five-year period, scholarships were whittled down to last season's low of seven. The team wasn't playing well during that span. Yet the school decided this season to restore four scholarships to make the team more competitive.

This season, great things are happening. Two weeks after the Number-16 ranking, the Mustangs shot into the top 10 at Number 10. The culture is changing.

"When you talk about building a culture and a winning culture and doing it the right way, you understand there are ups and downs at the beginning," Karlberg said. "When you look at the big picture, it's helped bring us to where we are now."

Now and the future are great places to be for the Mustangs. No matter how the season ends, there is promise.
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