For Dixie State to build upon last season's second-place finish in the Pac West Conference, senior forward Andy Palmer figured it would fall on his shoulders to get the Red Storm brewing.
Palmer finished as his team's second leading scorer and rebounder a year ago and put in extra work over the summer to play an increased role on both ends of the court. All of his progress seemed in danger of being halted when a rib injury threatened to keep him on the bench going into Dixie State's season opener against Cal State — Dominguez Hills.
Rather than sit the game out completely, however, Palmer wore a protective vest and gritted through the season opener. He tallied seven points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes to help the Red Storm earn a 69-49 victory.
Such an effort fits in perfectly with what the senior forward brings to Dixie State.
"I just try to lead by example more than anything," Palmer said. "Leadership is the most important quality you can have on a team and I'm just trying to be the best leader I can."
Palmer was elected a team captain after a junior season that saw him emerge as one of the most consistent contributors for the Red Storm. He has continued to lead — even while battling injuries — and has carved out an even more important role in helping Dixie State to a 4-1 start.
Through five games, Palmer is averaging 13.0 points and 5.6 rebounds while playing just 26 minutes per game. He is making an equally important impact on the defensive end by flourishing amid tough defensive assignments.
Dixie State coach Jon Judkins credits Palmer with playing much bigger defensively than his 6-foot-5 frame, using his strength to overcome potential size mismatches down low.
"He can get guys off the block by his strength and his quickness," Judkins said. "Again, he gets away with that because of his skill. He has to do that because of his size. He's not as tall as the rest of those guys."
Palmer has high expectations for himself and the Red Storm this season. Given how well Dixie State did against Pac West competition last season, he has every reason to feel confident that it has the potential to unseat BYU-Hawaii from atop the conference this time around.
"We kind of have a bitter taste in our mouth from last year," Palmer said. "We had our opportunity to go last year and a couple of things didn't go our way. This year, we definitely want to win our conference and hopefully get into the tournament."
POTENT GRIFFINS: Westminster stretched its winning streak in women's basketball to five games with a trio of victories at Behnken Fieldhouse this past week. The Griffins (9-4) blasted Northern New Mexico 112-38 on Thursday night to kick off the home stand. Westminster followed with a 72-54 win over San Diego Christian a night later and capped it off by beating Northern New Mexico again — this time by an 82-55 margin — on Saturday.
The Griffins rewrote some school record books during their first victory over the Eagles. Their final tally of 112 points was the most in school history. In that game, Westminster had 58-6 advantage in points in the paint. The Griffins also finished a 64-9 edge in bench scoring.
RISING IN THE POLLS: A month into the season, Salt Lake Community College is reaching unprecedented heights in women's basketball. The Bruins climbed to No. 2 in the latest NJCAA Top 25 Poll released last week. It is the highest ever ranking for SLCC (11-1).