FEATURE: Promising athletes dot local basketball rosters

Dealing with the demands of daily practice sessions and entertaining fans during evening games, high school athletes are a rare breed.

Occasionally, truly inspirational athletes overcome obstacles to succeed both in school and in their chosen sport.

Here are four of the best examples from White River, Enumclaw, Bonney Lake and Sumner high schools.

Tony Chynoweth, Enumclaw

The Chynoweth name might be synonymous with hockey or hydroplanes, but 17-year-old Tony Chynoweth, who plays guard for Enumclaw High, is making a name for himself in basketball.

This junior backcourt wizard currently leads the Hornet swarm in scoring, averaging almost 20 points per contest, tops the squad in steals and is second in both rebounding and assists.

Coach Kellen Hall says that he will never forget the first time he saw Chynoweth handle the ball.

“Tony was a freshman playing for Enumclaw in 2009 and I was an assistant coach with Bonney Lake at the time. I remember seeing him out there playing in a varsity game as a frosh and thinking, he is clearly the most talented player on the floor and that he had great potential,” Hall said. “My opinion hasn’t changed much since then.”

“Tony is an outstanding kid and the most fundamentally sound basketball player we have on the team right now,” Hall continued. “He is a very good basketball player and an even better human being. Tony is somewhat of a prankster and is real good at keeping everybody loose at practice, but when he sets foot on the hardwood for game time, it is as though he flips a switch and it is time to get down to business.”

Although he has yet to decide what avenues he would like to explore when he hits the hallowed halls of higher education, Chynoweth has the marks to qualify most anywhere, as he is currently sporting a 3.98 grade-point average.

“When I am speaking to him, I can tell he has a good work ethic and that he was raised right by his parents, with good morals,” offered Hall. “Tony is very coachable and as long as he continues to develop a few things at a normal rate, his freakish athleticism and his super attitude will take him a long way.”

When the 2008-09 version of the Enumclaw High boys basketball squad was in the Tacoma Dome, playing in the Class 3A state basketball championship tilt against Union High, Chynoweth was in the stands. He shared the heartbreak of looking on as a predominantly senior EHS squad went deeper into the postseason jungle than any other Hornet squad ever had. Still, the winged warriors finished as bridesmaids when they suffered a 51-50 setback to the Titans, ending that historic campaign with a 28-1 record.

“I was in the stands with all of those other Enumclaw people, witnessing and feeling the heartache. I felt so bad for those guys like Carel, VanTrojen, Coleman, Myers and Lewis among others. It is hard to say what kind of anguish those guys must have been going through,” stressed Chynoweth. “They had won every single game, but the most important one of all, that would have made it a perfect season.  They were mostly seniors playing their final high school game, so there was no tomorrow. Suddenly their season was just over. The finality of it all must have just been absolutely overwhelming emotionally.

“People may not believe me or think I am serious, but with the skill we have on this team and Coach Hall leading us, I don’t think it is going to be too long before Enumclaw gets back to the big show,” Chynoweth said.

“I know the guys on this team, because it has been my distinct pleasure to have grown up with them. There are some sophomores on this team right now who are unbelievable athletes and super players, but they are like our secret weapons because the average fan knows little or nothing about them. The fellas in this bunch would love nothing better than to eventually return to the big show and do something that would make the citizens of this town proud.

“People who know me realize that I would never say anything like that, unless I felt in my heart that it was truly possible.”

Naomi Pounds/Mekenzie Voellger, Bonney Lake

Peas and carrots….that is what sharpshooting senior guard Naomi Pounds and athletic junior forward Mekenzie Voellger bring to the table for the Bonney Lake girls basketball squad.

Without this dynamic duo, the still-inexperienced squad might not be very competitive. With this tandem, both 5-foot, 10-inches, the Panther girls have a fighting chance every game.

When the Panther girls beat Peninsula High Jan. 13, they posted their initial league victory of the season with an inspired 54-40 triumph. If not for the presence of this talented twosome, victory may not have been achieved.

These cage cohorts combined to score more than half of the Panther points that night, totaling 39. Pounds buried a couple of shots – seemingly from the parking lot – and found success at the foul line to accrue 22 points, while Voellger displayed dogged athleticism in the paint to turn in a 17-point performance.

Not conceited or arrogant – just confident in their abilities and content to be able to contribute – each comes with her own set of skills.

“These two young ladies are very different players, but by the same token, both of their styles of play work toward making Bonney Lake a better team every day,” lauded coach Thomas Ostrander.

“Naomi came on board about the same time I started coaching here four years ago. She is our only senior player this season and does a great job of bringing the ball down the floor, either recognizing the chance to shoot from the outside, slashing to the basket or dishing the ball off to an open player.

“Conversely, Mekenzie is more like a true power forward and just has a motor that never stops. She is relentless and has a mindset that allows her to make things happen, no matter what it takes,” Ostrander said.

“Obviously, she is one of our better players and as the team captain she makes everyone around her better player through setting a pick or rebounding again and again until the ball goes in.

“Mekenzie and Naomi are both smart kids, who do well in their classes and make great choices on and off the court, in

addition to being well-respected among their peers and setting good examples for the younger kids. They compliment one another very nicely and are able to do a great many things on the basketball court for us,” Ostrander maintained.

Pounds comes from a basketball family. Her sister, Marcel, was one of the first girls to don a basketball uniform for Bonney Lake High School and is a pure shooter who is now playing for Western Washington University.

Voellger wears a knee brace as a preventative measure against further injury, having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the early stages of the 2010-11 season.

“The thing I like most about Mekenzie is that she never, ever gives up in a game situation and that is very motivating to the young freshman and sophomore girls on this team,” Pounds said.

Voellger, in return, has kind words for her teammate.

“Thank goodness Naomi is a great communicator on the basketball floor, because there are many young players on this team and Naomi is always pointing out little things to help them improve their fundamentals,” Voellger said. “In some ways she is like having a player-coach out there with us.”

Opposites can indeed attract and also fit well together, like a hand in a glove...or like peas and carrots.

Billy Kiel, White River

During his four-year hitch as a starter on the White River boys basketball squad, the legend of Billy “The Kid”

Kiel has grown. His prep basketball antics as a member of the Buckley gang strike fear in the hearts of opposing roundballers – much like the original Billy The Kid struck fear in the heart’s of his gunslinging adversaries.

Historians tell us that Billy The Kid was one of the nicest people one could hope to meet, unless you were facing him in a gunfight. It is much the same with White River’s Kiel, off of the hardwood and without a basketball in his hands.

Something happened in a recent hoop encounter that has contributed to the Kiel hoop legend. Sumner High rode into The Hive Jan. 10 and both squads were 5-1 in league play. Sumner coach Brett McDaniel remembers the moment well.

“There was under a minute remaining in regulation and White River was trailing us by three points,” McDaniel said, “when Hornet coach Rick Tripp called a timeout.

“I used that timeout to ask my guys which player they thought the White River squad might try to get the ball to. To a man, they all said Kiel.  OK, I told them. Get out there and prevent him from getting a shot off no matter what.”

Kiel responded like a Houdini of the hardwood, momentarily making himself invisible, getting off an uncontested shot and drained a 3-point bucket, sending the game into overtime.

“I am certain that everyone on our team and I suppose nearly everyone in the building knew Kiel was going to be the one taking that shot and we still couldn’t stop him,” McDaniel said.

“I should hate Billy, but I just can’t bring myself to do so, because I like and admire him to much. Kiel is old school all the way. He simply works his tail off and does what he is instructed to do out there. You will never see him getting into mischief off the basketball court or complaining about calls the referees make during games.”

Kiel currently is averaging 20 points per game, hitting his 300th point of the season against Clover Park, when his 15 points spearheaded the huge upset victory over the No. 1-ranked Class 2A squad in the state.

“People are always asking me why I don’t smile more during the games or why I don’t wave to the stands when they holler at me. Well, I don’t really know,” said the humble and polite Kiel. “Maybe it is because I have tunnel vision when I’m on the court. When I am in the heat of the competition in an important game I am having fun, but that doesn’t mean I am not concentrating like crazy on playing basketball and focusing on what I am responsible for getting done out there.”

The 1,000 career points mark appears to be well within reach for this Buckley native too, as he may attain this goal by simply finishing out the regular season managing his points-per-contest-average.

Kiel maintains that he loves the game of basketball, especially the contests that have the most on the line.

“Billy is without a doubt one of the best players I’ve ever coached and for me to say he is a tremendous shooter would be an understatement,” Tripp said. “Even more crucial than that, though, is his understanding, knowledge and love of the game of basketball as well as the intensity, focus and senior leadership he brings to the table.”

Kiel gladly endures such sacrifices as not having any free time between maintaining his 3.6 grade point average and being a fixture in the daily basketball practices and meetings that put huge demands on his time.

Kiel refers to these responsibilities as simply being part of the game and contends that even his own contemporaries probably aren’t able to comprehend how much time he spends practicing, practicing and then practicing again with what little spare time he does have.

“My dad is an assistant coach on the White River team and sometimes I think he is wound up kind of tight, as he is always in my grill, yelling at me about basketball stuff. The bottom line though, is that I appreciate him teaching me nearly everything I know about the sport of basketball and I try to thank him for that every day in one way or another,” Kiel said. “He and my mom are my biggest fans and I love them both dearly and am really grateful for the unconditional support that they have both shown me all of my life.”

Joey Kendall, Sumner

Two years ago, if anyone had told Joey Kendall – the 6-foot, 4-inch senior forward on the Sumner High basketball squad –  that he would become an integral cog in the three-pronged offensive machine that has elevated the Spartan boys basketball squad to the front of the SPSL 2A pack, he probably would have suggested the crystal ball be dusted off and checked again.

But with a successful heart operation a little more than a year and a half ago, a great deal of rehabilitation, cardio-building workouts and hours in the weight room, that is exactly what the refocused picture looks like for this determined young player, who tempts the fickle finger of fate by wearing the number 13 on his jersey.

After baffling doctors for a while and having to rest after being in games for only a few minutes during his sophomore year, Kendall finally underwent surgery to repair a rare heart disorder called supra ventricular tachycardia, an exhausting condition in which the heart has to work much too hard just to process oxygen.

“It was a difficult decision as to whether or not to have the surgery done and the rehab represented an arduous road back to recovery, but I’m glad I went through with it,” Kendall said. “I believe I have cleared the psychological obstacles involved as well.

“The problem would occur randomly and it used to just bug the heck out of me because I never knew when it was going to come about. Since the operation I am a lot healthier for having gone ahead with it.”

Sumner’s bottom line on the hardwood has become a lot healthier, too, as it has become a real chore to defend not only the towering and now more durable Kendall, but also the tandem that play alongside of him in 6-foot, 5-inch post Zeb Glissmeyer and 6-foot, 4-inch forward Dan DeVries.

“We’ve got to be one of the tallest teams in the SPSL 2A and it really gives opposing defenses headaches, trying to stop all three of us at the same time. Usually one of us three scores over 20 points and the other two accrue at least double figures,” said Kendall, who recently had a 28-point performance in an overtime meeting at White River.

Last season, Sumner coach Brett McDaniel guided the Spartan cagers to the Sweet 16 round of the Class 2A state basketball tournament for the first time in 40 years. Unfortunately, McDaniels’ troops had to take on a hot-shooting Tumwater High contingent at the Thunderbirds’ own gym through a fluke of scheduling and, despite the Sumner club enjoying a 10-point advantage at intermission, Spartan faithful could only look on bleakly as the Spartans made an early exit from the big show.

But McDaniels’ confidence has been contagious for this season’s predominantly senior group of cagers and the Spartan boss says Kendall’s self-image is improving with every encounter the purple and gold engages in.

“Joey is starting to figure out that he can be one of the elite players in this league and he has the ability to diversify his game more than he already has. He has a lot more giddy-up than he used to and all the work he did in the weight room with the football players in the off-season has helped develop his legs and his cardio,” McDaniel said. “He is coming into his own and once that happens Sumner is going to be very hard to stop the rest of the way.”

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