Rick Tripp, the first year coach for the White River High School boys basketball squad, knows he has his hands full.
“I don’t think we will be in the same elite echelon as teams like Enumclaw, Lakes and Franklin Pierce, but we are going to give those teams a run for their money,” he said, “and, hopefully, by the end of the regular season, we will have played well enough to slip into the playoffs.”
Tripp is looking for his crew to reverse the trend from last year, when White River lost a lot of close contests in the games’ final moments.
“Maybe if we stay focused we can turn some of those nailbiting setbacks from last year into Ws this season,” he said.
Tripp will get a good feel for what his squad is capable of during the early going. The Hornets will play two demanding nonleague games and a tandem of dicey league contests within a seven-day span in early December, prior to breaking into the heart of the South Puget Sound League 3A campaign.
The Hornets’ new hoop mentor is a former standout at St. Martin’s University who played high school ball at Franklin Pierce High. He has remained familiar with the competitive hoops played in the SPSL 3A.
Tripp’s players participated in pickup games in the offseason and that, he feels, will pay dividends.
“Half the battle in basketball…is gaining an early foothold in the categories of team chemistry, rapport and an understanding of one another’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
White River will boast eight seniors on its varsity roster in the upcoming campaign, but graduation was not kind to the Hornets, who lost senior Kenneth Thomas, who finished as one of the SPSL 3A’s top five scorers a year ago. Also lost was ball-handling wizard, motivator and scoring machine Nolan Gibson and sharpshooting guard Casey Zimmer.
But the hoops cupboard isn’t exactly bare, as Tripp seems to have four of his five starters (all seniors) chiseled in stone. Bringing the ball down the floor will be senior point guard Chad Sayler and joining him will be seniors A.J. Rice (6 feet, 5 inches), Blake Halverson (6-3) and Jason Tyler, all of whom saw plenty of minutes on the court last season.
White River has bench strength, including 6-8 senior spire Kaleb Murphy. The fifth starter will likely emerge from seniors Jake Bailiff, D.J. Reynolds or Hunter Chadwick.
The Hornets will open the season Friday against Peninsula High, a team decimated by graduation.