Faith Lutheran boys basketball coach Bret Walter isn't accustomed to entering the postseason with a 9-17 record.
But he also isn't used to replacing all five starters from the previous season.
Nor do the Crusaders normally play a schedule featuring games against Bishop Gorman, Silverado, Lake Mead, nationally ranked Dominguez (Calif.) and at least three other California playoff teams.
"Much different, obviously," Walter said of Faith Lutheran's road to the playoffs. "We had some seniors who didn't have game experience. We played a tough schedule. We've been working to try to get better."
The No. 1-seeded Crusaders (4-2 Class 3A Southern League) open the league tournament in the semifinals against No. 4 Boulder City (13-16, 2-4) at 8 p.m. today at Desert Oasis.
A trip to the state playoffs is on the line, which means a lot to the four-time defending 3A champion Crusaders, who will ascend to 4A next season.
"We expect nothing less than a state championship right now," low-post player Brett Lubbe said. "You don't want to be the one team in the school's history to not win a 3A state championship.
"It's a lot of pressure, but I think we're going to handle it well. We're really trying to make a statement and show the 4A schools we belong."
Lubbe, a 6-foot-3-inch sophomore, has left little doubt he belongs. He leads the Crusaders in points (16.6) and rebounds (9.8) per game.
Lubbe said the Crusaders' 5-13 start helped the young team clinch a fifth straight regular-season league title.
"We scheduled probably our toughest preseason schedule in the history of the school," he said. "It prepared us for our league because they were good competition this year.
"We've had a roller-coaster season. It's been up and down, but we're starting to peak. We're finding the right lineups."
In today's other semifinal, Moapa Valley (12-8, 3-3) will play Virgin Valley (15-9, 3-3) at 4:40 p.m.
The girls tournament also begins today at Desert Oasis, with Boulder City (9-10, 4-2) playing Moapa Valley (11-13, 3-3) at 3 p.m. and Virgin Valley (20-7, 5-1) facing Faith Lutheran (8-15, 0-6) at 6:20.
Contact reporter Tristan Aird at taird@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203.