Wallander's transfer to Westminster mutually beneficial

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Last year at this time, for the first time in as long as he could remember, Charlie Wallander — then a freshman at Penn State — was not playing organized basketball. And it was driving him nuts.

Wallander, a standout basketball player at Baldwin during his high school days, missed the sport he loves. But if he were to attempt to go out for the team with the NCAA Division I Nittany Lions, his playing time likely would be minimal. So he looked to transfer.

A year later, not only is he playing at Division III Westminster College, he's one of the team's top players.

“I loved Penn State, but I was there for probably a month or two, and it got to that time of year, September and October, where I was used to starting basketball,” Wallander said. “I had been playing basketball my whole life. I wasn't used to not playing. I told myself that I should be playing basketball right now. I decided I wanted to play, so I went through the whole process of finding the right college, one that fit me.”

Enter Westminster, a college in the same state as Penn State, but worlds away in almost every other way.

“It's funny because Westminster and Penn State are so different. Penn State has about 45,000 students and Westminster has about 1,600. It's like a high school in size,” Wallander said. “I really liked Penn State, but Westminster has really worked out well with me. I connected with the smaller school on a personal level.”

The basketball program overall and head coach Kevin Siroki in particular were among the key selling points that lured Wallander to Westminster.

Now in his second year as the Titans' floor boss, Siroki was in the midst of rebuilding the program, which gave Wallander the opportunity to play significant minutes right away.

“Charlie contacted us, told us he was interested in transfering, and it all sort of went from there,” Siroki said. “He was a great fit for what we were looking for. We got him started in the weight room in the fall, and when we came into the season, he was a great fit right away.

“Most newcomers to your team are coming straight from high school, but that extra year made a big difference with Charlie. He was more mature mentally and physically.”

The 6-foot-4 Wallander immediately grabbed the four position for Westminster and is fourth on the team with 259 points, with an 11.3 ppg average, and leads the team with 151 rebounds, or 6.5 per game.

“I definitely expected to be a key contributor, but I wasn't sure if I'd be a starter or if I'd come off of the bench,” Wallander said. “I definitely didn't expect this, seeing so many minutes.”

While it's been a good year for Wallander, it's been a rough season for the Titans, who entered the week 3-20 overall and 2-12 in the Presidents' Athletic Conference.

“Team-wise, it hasn't been exactly the best year. We don't have the record any of us wanted,” Wallander said. “But our record is deceiving. We're building for next year. We haven't accomplished what we wanted, but we're building for the future.”

Siroki echoed that optimism.

“Our record doesn't speak volumes about us as a team,” he said. “Everybody looks at wins and losses, but we aren't looking at that. I know we're a better team than that, and I our future is bright. Charlie is a big part of that.”

One key difference is that, this year, Wallander is playing a bit undersized at the four spot. But Westminster is bringing in a handful of bigger recruits, which will allow Wallander to slide to his more natural three position.

“As this year is ending, we're gelling more as a team,” Wallander said. “Our chemistry is getting better. We have seven new players, six freshmen and myself, a transfer. At the beginning of the year, we hadn't played with each other. We had only two guys returning from last year who played any significant time, but now I can already see us getting better and playing as a team.”

However, Wallander and his teammates are focused on the remainder of this season with the goal of finishing strong.

The Titans played Grove City earlier this week and host Geneva on Saturday in their regular-season finale, then have the chance to really open some eyes in the PAC tournament, which begins next week.

“Our goal is definitely to finish strong,” Wallander said. “We know we can play with the teams in our conference.”

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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