NORTH ADAMS -- A change has been in the works since the beginning of January, and Phase 1 can take a big step toward completion tonight.
The men's basketball team sits atop the conference standings at 7-1. No. 2 Westfield (7-2) is in town to challenge the Trailblazers for that spot.
"I expect that to be the biggest game we played all year," junior Ramon Viches said. "We beat them pretty bad at their place, and they're going to be coming really, really hungry. We just got to come out there and play to the best of our ability because they will be hungry and they have a really good team."
The Owls have also been on a tear since MCLA beat them by 21 at their place. They've won five straight -- all in conference -- and they've won four of those by at least 16 points.
They'll bring that streak to the Amsler Campus Center Gymnasium tonight for a big-time clash at 7:30. If they have any thoughts of catching the Trailblazers looking ahead, that won't be the case. Trailblazers have been saying the game-by-game approach is working wonders for them, and not even a chance for a stranglehold on the regular season title can change that.
"Just another day in the office, honestly," sophomore Ruben DelRosario said. "We just got to keep our composure because I know we've been winning a couple games, but we can't get lackadaisical.
"It really all starts in practice because we're a very competitive team and we're very emotional, so we don't like losing."
An MCLA win would give it a 11 2-game lead over Westfield in the conference with a game in hand. MCLA will have played nine games, while Westfield will have played its 10th. That means the Owls could do no better than a 9-3 conference record. MCLA would need to win one of its remaining three conference games to guarantee a share of the regular season title.
The last time MCLA even had a share of the regular season title was the 1998-99 season. It shared the title with Salem State. The last outright title was the 1989-90 season when the college was still North Adams State.
Put simply, a win tonight sets MCLA up nicely for the top seed. A win and a Salem St. loss guarantees a first-round playoff bye.
"We know it's out there. We don't need to talk about it. We got a long way to go. [Tonight's] not going to determine that," coach Jamie Morrison said. "It's going to go a long way, but ultimately, it's not going to determine that."
It's too soon to say the Trailblazers have turned the program around, but they're enjoying the success. It's success that hasn't been found in North Adams on a consistent basis.
"I've been here for four years," senior Bilal Shabazz said. "It's just a great feeling to just be No. 1 in the MASCAC and to beat the teams you used to lose to."
To recah Josh Colligan, email
On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalJosh