Nine Gorge Class 1A boys basketball teams started practice Nov. 14.
Area teams from Dufur High School, Sherman County High and Horizon Christian High will be seeking to have a winning season and match last year’s success of the defending Big Sky League Champion South Wasco County High Redsides.
The Redsides will undoubtedly be one of the top squads in the 12-team league. South Wasco were 25-1 overall and took second place in the 2021 1A state tournament. Their only defeat was a, 62-53, loss to the Crane High Mustangs in the state championship game March 5 at Baker City High School.
There will be some adjustments for the Redsides this year after losing four talented seniors to graduation, including Big Sky West Division Player-of-the-Year Oscar Thomas. Departed seniors Brock LaFaver, Alex Stebbins and Remington Anderson-Sheer will also leave some big shoes to fill.
The Redsides will rely on the senior duo of forward Ian Ongers, guard James Best and forward Levi Huntley. The 6-foot-3 Ongers was a 2022 Big Sky League first team player.
Players who will also help the Redsides enjoy another successful season include junior guard Joey Holloway, sophomore forward Storm McCoy, sophomore guard Gavin Hagan and sophomore forward Colby Brace.
“These guys came to every single summer league game that we played,” said Hull. “We have high expectations for our team. We have a great balance of experience coming back along with enough youth. It worked out well for them during the summer. They meshed well and they can play really well together.”
The Sherman County High Huskies will likely be one of the most improved teams this year, particularly since they have every player except one (2022 graduate Dillan Stanfield) returning from last season.
The Huskies, guided by fifth-year Coach Gary Lewis, finished 4-11 overall. The squad will be led again this year by the senior trio of guards Kole Martin and Ed Rubio, and 6-3 Cade von Borstel.
“We had the typical first day of practice (Nov. 14) and it was a little rough around the edges, but the 16 kids we had came in with a lot of enthusiasm and they worked hard,” said Lewis. “It was step one of a long process. We have lots of experience, but we don’t have a lot of size, so we’re going to have to get after people defensively.”
The Dufur Rangers are hoping to continue the success that they experienced a year ago when they finished with a 7-2 league mark. The Rangers, guided by Coach Hollie Darden and assistant Coach CS Little, lost three seniors (Carson Smith, Wyatt Miller, and Gabe Petroff) to graduation.
“We talked about a lot of things in a team meeting before the first practice. We talked about the expectations for the season and the team development,” said Darden. “Our rotation will depend on how much information they’re able to absorb. We don’t have any superstars. We could have a variety of different people who start from week to week. It depends on what happens with their performance in games and in practice.”
Dufur also lost two starters from last year’s squad who transferred to other schools. Senior point guard Josh Taylor transferred to The Dalles and senior post Marcus Radcliffe transferred to Ione/Arlington.
The Horizon Christian High Hawks of Hood River lost talented all-league seniors Josh Rogers and Alex Whitaker to graduation. That means there are some big shoes to fill for second-year Coach Kim Linder. The Hawks are hoping to repeat the success they had last year, when they had a 13-8 overall record and 6-4 league mark.
“We lost two seniors from last year that were a big part of what we did,” said Linder, who has a squad of 13 players. “We have three returning varsity starters and a couple of other kids that have improved a lot and can fill in the other starting roles. We feel pretty good about the opportunity to continue improving and build upon the success that we had last year and hopefully we can fight for a playoff spot this season.”
Linder says that this year’s squad has an advantage of being more familiar with the scheme that he implemented for the team a year ago and that the development is progressing more rapidly.
“I feel like at this point of the season, we’re at the same point where we were last year after one month into the season,” said Linder. “It was a different system for the kids last year. A lot of the concepts and plays that we executed were new for them.
“Last year, we basically started from scratch in terms of what we were putting in and how we were going to play. With everybody coming back, except for two kids, a lot of the stuff they’ve done means they have a year of experience. They competed in the summer league schedule, too, which was a very positive experience and that also helped with the development of our team.”
Three of the four Class 1A Big Sky teams from Washington will be starting their second year in the OSAA. Those schools include Klickitat/Glenwood, Lyle/Wishram and Trout Lake. Trout Lake (0-9 league last year) will be seeking to win its first-ever Big Sky league game this year. The Klickitat/Glenwood High Vandals were 2-6 in league and had a 3-11 overall record last year. The Vandals open the season with a 1 p.m. Dec. 3 contest versus the Lyle/Wishram High Cougars. The Cougars were 4-6 in league and 5-9 overall last year.
Bickleton will not have a boys team this season because of a lack of players.