Last season, the Valparaiso Crusaders played some great basketball in the regular season, finishing with an impressive 28 – 6 record overall. The Crusaders never lost back-to-back games throughout the season, and they accumulated five winning streaks of 3 or more wins.
Their strong regular season, which saw them go 13 – 3 in Horizon League play, earned them a berth in the NCAA Tournament. They almost took out 4-seed Maryland in the opening round, narrowly losing 65 – 62.
In 2015-16, the Crusaders return a plethora of talent, headlined by junior Alec Peters, senior Darien Walker, and sophomore Tevonn Walker. Peters, Walker, and Walker were the Crusaders’ leading scorers in 2014-15.
One player who they didn’t expect to have back was the reigning Defensive POY in the Horizon League, and that is Vashil Fernandez. The big man out of Jamaica was expected to graduate, despite playing only three years in the NCAA.
On Thursday, it was announced that Fernandez was granted a fifth-year of eligibility, and Crusader fans everywhere let out a collective sigh of relief and a little cheer.
Last season, the 6’10”, 260-pound Fernandez took home the Horizon League’s Defensive Player of the Year award, He averaged 6.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game.
His 2.9 blocks per game were good for 11th-best in the country.
Fernandez also set a single-season Valparaiso record with 98 blocked shots over the course of the year.
When Fernandez began his career at Valparaiso, he missed his entire freshman campaign due to transcript records from high school. Fernandez attended Princeton Day Academy in Maryland.
Adding Fernandez back into the mix for Bryce Drew and the Valparaiso Crusaders should solidify the team as the favourite in the conference for the 2015-16 season. With talented offensive players like Peters (16.7 ppg), D. Walker (10.7 ppg), and T. Walker (10.3 ppg), the return of Fernandez will help the Crusaders excel on the defensive end of the floor.
With the memory of making the NCAA Tournament last year still fresh in their minds, Valparaiso will use their opening round loss to Maryland as motivation to fuel their fire, and get them back to the big dance once again.