As the calendar flips to December, local high school gyms come alive with the sights and sounds of jump shots, rebounds and pressing defenses.
It’s time again for basketball, which takes center stage for a lengthy run that continues into the first week of March for teams talented enough to qualify for state tournaments.
Here’s a look at how things are shaping up for the four hoop programs – the boys and girls teams at both Enumclaw and White River high schools – that call the Plateau home.
With returning talent, proven scoring and a deep bench, coach Terry Johnson has good reason for optimism heading into his seventh season at the Hornet helm.
“This should be the deepest team we have had in several years,” Johnson wrote in a recent email, “and (we) are hopeful for a fun, competitive season.”
Consistency is always a strength and the Hornet boys return the majority of the varsity squad from a season ago. That includes three of last year’s top four scorers in Noah Seabrands and Carter DeRosier, both seniors, and junior Karson Holt. Last season, Seabrands was a second team, all-league selection and Holt earned honorable mention.
“But more importantly, we expect big seasons from several other guys who put in a lot of work all summer and fall,” Johnson said, praising the efforts of senior Ty Hanson and juniors Austin Pierce, Wyatt Neu, Liam Leonard and Landon Brauer.
After participating in a jamboree last weekend, the Hornets jump directly into South Puget Sound League 2A play. Friday night brings a road trip to take on the Washington Patriots and next Tuesday, Dec. 6, brings the home opener against Orting High. Tipoff for the Orting game is 7 p.m. in Chuck Smith Gymnasium.
Johnson and Co. are coming off a season is which they advanced to the Class 2A’s Sweet 16 but were eliminated during the regional round of the state tournament. The squad had finished 10-4 in league play and went 14-9 overall.
There’s a notable loss to the Hornet girls’ hoop program, but plenty of proven talent still to draw upon.
Lost to graduation was Rosie Penke, last year’s SPSL 2A Most Valuable Player. But Danny Graham, entering his third season with the EHS team, has battle-tested veterans taking the court. Leading the way are senior Charlee Torgison and junior Bella Firnkoess, each the recipient of first team, all-league honors a season ago. Torgison averaged 10 points, four rebounds and three steals per game a year ago while Firnkoess averaged nine points and seven rebounds.
Heading the list of new additions is Kaylee Swanson. The sophomore guard “should jump into the rotation with her shooting and defensive skills,” Graham said.
Overall, Graham likes the depth and experience that comes with a team featuring six seniors on the varsity roster. Last year’s success story adds an additional building block, he said.
This year’s group includes “highly motivated girls with a tough mentality,” he added.
A strength of this year’s team should be its defense. “We have spent the past two years working on our rotations,” Graham said, noting that most of his varsity squad is heading into a third season of working together.
Last year’s Hornet team advanced to the 16-team state Class 2A tournament. This year, they’ll be looking for a longer tourney stay; last time, the team bowed out in the regional round of state competition.
One area of concern is protecting the ball. “We averaged 17 turnovers per game last year,” Graham said. “That is way too many.”
The Hornets had a wildly successful regular season, posting a 13-1 record in SPSL 2A play and earning a share of the league championship. The final season tally showed an overall record of 16-5.
WHITE RIVER BOYS
A bit of rebuilding is in order for Zach Johnson, who shared SPSL 2A Coach of the Year honors last season.
Now entering his fifth season in charge of the White River boys program, Johnson has the unenviable task of making up for the loss of four senior starters, including last year’s league MVP, Rylan Donovan, and first team, all-league selection Dane Goudy.
Despite those losses, Johnson is optimistic about his team’s chanced in the SPSL 2A. “We will still be one of, if not the favorite, to be league champions once again,” he wrote in a preseason email.
That confidence is based on the fact that Johnson still has pieces in place that contributed to last year’s stretch of perfection, a 14-0 run through the South Puget Sound League 2A campaign.
Experience comes largely in the form of two juniors: Colin Schmidtke, a member of last season’s starting lineup, and Tyce Donovan, who receives high praise for his defensive efforts and is seen as an impact player at both ends of the court.
The Hornet backcourt will be led by senior Jacob Du and sophomore Greg Schmitz. “Both are outstanding shooters and will stretch the floor for us,” Johnson said. Delivering athleticism off the bench will be Sawyer Bloom and Xavier Braun.
The squad’s top newcomer is Rylan Ramos, a senior transfer from Orting High. At 6 foot, 6 inches, “he can do a little bit of everything offensively,” the coach reported.
A season ago the Hornets finished with an overall record of 19-5; included was a trip to the state Class 2A tournament where they fell in the regional round.
The first test for this year’s squad came Saturday during a nonleague game against Tacoma’s Annie Wright School. The SPSL 2A campaign tipped off last night (Dec. 6) when the Hornets hosted the Washington Patriots. Tomorrow (Thursday) brings another league test with White River traveling to Orting High.
WHITE RIVER GIRLS
The White River girls’ hoop program has become a dominant, year-after-year force, with league championships and state tourney berths aplenty.
Evan a casual glance indicates this year could produce more of the same for Hall of Fame coach Chris Gibson and his talented bunch.
The coaching staff has welcomed back a handful of players from last year’s squad that went 13-1 in South Puget Sound League 2A play, shared the league title, made yet another appearance in the 2A state tourney and finished the season with an impressive record of 20-5.
Last season’s roster had few seniors, leaving this year’s program poised for another successful campaign.
Back for another year are two Hornets – senior Morgan Greene and sophomore Vivian Kingston – who were first team, all-SPSL 2A selections a year ago. Operating from a guard spot, Greene led the team in scoring last year, averaging 14 points per contest. Offering a legitimate inside presence, Kingston added a dozen point per game.
Juniors Lexie Banks and Ava Bright made the all-league second team last season and fellow junior Josie Jacobs earned honorable mention.
Adding to the list of proven talent is Dakota Sprouse, who saw significant playing time a year ago as a freshman.
Gibson also is excited abut the return of junior MacKenzie Hinson. During the earliest stages of last season she averaged double-figure scoring, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in just the third game.
“I’m really excited about the season,” Gibson said, emphasizing that his crew spent a very productive summer. That included a championship effort at the San Diego Classic, where the squad impressed the coach with its rebounding and defensive efforts.
Fans will get their first look at this year’s Hornet edition tonight (Nov. 30) when White River plays host to the Gig Harbor Tides. The nonleague contest against a Class 3A opponent tips off at 7 p.m. Saturday will bring another nonleague tilt when White River heads to Auburn Riverside.