With the prep sports calendar returning to some semblance of normalcy, basketball programs at both Plateau high schools are ready to dive headlong into a new season.
It’s a welcome change from last school year, when basketball was played late in the school year and some contests were played out of the area due to COVID-related restrictions.
The boys’ and girls’ teams at Enumclaw and White River high schools have been turning out for two weeks and begin play this week. Here’s an early-season look at the four squads.
WHITE RIVER GIRLS
Too slow, too short, poor shooting, be lucky to win a game…
Anyone familiar with the White River girls’ basketball program has heard that sad refrain from coach Chris Gibson.
Of course, no one listens to the Hall of Fame coach who has registered a remarkable run of success since landing in Buckley. Gibson’s teams haven’t lost a league game since the 2014-15 campaign (the streak is now 100 in a row) and capped last year’s undefeated slate with a championship in the end-of-season tournament.
Each season, it seems, there’s a reloading rather than a rebuilding.
This year’s squad will have a much different look, however. Gone from the ranks are four starters, most notably Kara Marecle, the SPSL 2A’s two-time Most Valuable Player.
The top returnee is senior Brooke Mahler, who received all-league honorable mention following last season. Others who boast varsity experience include senior Ashley Banks, junior Morgan Greene and sophomores Lexie Banks, Ava Bright, Mackenzie Hinson and Josie Jacobs. Promising freshman Vivian Kingston offers some needed height, checking in at 5 feet, 11 inches.
“It’s a young team,” Gibson noted. “It’s going to take some time, but when we get to February we want to be playing our best basketball.”
From the start, Hornet followers should expect to see a team that pushes the ball upcourt and, when on defense, pressures the ball. “We’re going to play fast,” Gibson said.
The White River girls will open the season with three nonleague contests, all this week and all on the Hornets’ home court in rural Buckley. White River hosts Olympic High tonight (Wednesday), Capital High on Friday and the Puyallup Vikings at noon Saturday. The league season gets under way Dec. 7 when the Hornets travel to Clover Park.
WHITE RIVER BOYS
There’s optimism in the ranks of the White River boys’ hoop program, where coach Zach Johnson – now in his fourth season at the Hornet helm – believes this year’s squad can “contend for a league title and state berth.”
A year ago, Johnson’s crew advanced to the finals of the SPSL 2A end-of-season tournament, eventually falling just five points shy against champion Franklin Pierce.
This time around, the Hornets sport a healthy mix of veteran players and newcomers.
“We have four varsity returners, all seniors this season, that we will rely on heavily,” Johnson reported. He was referring the quartet of Rylan Donovan, Dane Goudy, Ashtin Harris and Carson Voellger. The youth in the roster comes primarily in the form of sophomores Colin Schmidtke and Tyce Donovan.
“We have good size with Voellger, Schmidtke and Rylan Donovan and also very good guard play with Goudy, Harris, and Tyce Donovan,” Johnson said. The elder Donovan (Rylan) is coming off a junior season in which he earned second team, all-league honors.
The White River squad kicked off the season last night (Nov. 30) by heading south on I-5 to Chehalis for a nonleague road game against W.F. West High School. A second nonleague contest is planned for Thursday when the Hornets host Renton and the SPSL 2A campaign launches Dec. 7 with a home game (tipoff at 7 p.m.) against the Clover Park Warriors.
Second-year coach Danny Graham will be looking to continue building on the success found a season ago, when his Hornet girls took the No. 2 spot in the SPSL 2A standings and went on to play for the title in the league’s end-of-season tournament.
There’s reason for optimism, as Graham has welcomed back a handful of players from last season’s varsity roster. Chief among those is senior Rosie Penke, a first team, all-league performer when she last took the court. Also back from last year’s starting lineup are junior Charlee Torgison, a second team selection last season, and sophomore Bella Firnkoess, who made the second team as a freshman.
Others returning from the varsity ranks include seniors Isabelle Couch and Ellie DeGroot; juniors Madison Blechschmidt, Gwyneth Harderson, Marissa Lindberg and Gabriella Martel; and sophomore Hannah Penke.
Among the list of promising newcomers, Graham notes sophomore Natalie DeMarco and freshman Kalee Swanson.
Aside from the rigors of the regular South Puget Sound League 2A campaign, Graham points out that “we have an incredibly tough” nonleague schedule that includes a trio of Class 4A schools and a pair of 3A opponents.
This year’s Hornet squad had its first test last night (Tuesday), heading to Snohomish for a nonleague game against 4A Glacier Peak High School. A second nonleague tussle is set for Saturday at Pasco High (another 4A foe) and the SPSL 2A season gets under way Dec. 7 when Enumclaw hosts the Foss Falcons.
“With all these returners hopefully we can build off of what we did last year and improve,” Graham said. “I’m looking forward to a great season with some hard-working girls.”
Coach Terry Johnson figures this year’s Hornet team should see its greatest success as the season progresses.
Despite a handful of players with varsity experience, Johnson notes that he’s leading a young team with five juniors and four sophomores on the roster. For that reason, he said, “gaining some experience and understanding how we need to play to be successful will take some time.”
That’s not meant to sound too negative, as Johnson counters with a belief that “we have some talented kids, some kids who can really shoot the ball, and they are all great teammates. Once they all settle into what it takes to compete at a high level, we expect to be competing with the best teams in our league by the end of the year.”
The Hornets are coming off a season in which they qualified for the league’s postseason tourney, claiming the No. 4 berth.
Back from that team are varsity returners like senior John Carnino (who earned all-league honorable mention a season ago), juniors Carter DeRosier and Noah Seabrands and sophomore Karson Holt. The coach also is expecting a major contribution from sophomore Liam Leonard.
Johnson has been running his Hornets through preseason practices for two weeks and has seen live action during a couple of preseason contests. The South Puget Sound League 2A campaign gets rolling Tuesday, Dec. 7, when Enumclaw travels to Tacoma to challenge the Foss Falcons.