Just five months after the high school boys basketball schedule concluded in the spring, area teams returned to the hardwood Nov. 15 for the first day of practice in preparation for the more traditional winter season beginning the first week of December.
In the 12-team, Class 1A Big Sky League, a number of area teams are hoping that they’ll have a successful season that concludes with a berth in the OSAA state tournament in March at Baker City High School.
The Dufur High Rangers, South Wasco County High Redsides and Horizon Christian High Hawks are all considered likely state playoff contenders.
The Redsides took third place in the unofficial state playoffs (not sanctioned by OSAA) in June at Baker and finished with a 10-3 record (5-1 Big Sky). The Redsides, guided by Coach Jim Hull, have another strong squad, led by 6-foot-6 senior post Brock LaFaver and they have six players returning from their spring state playoff team. The Redsides lost 2019 Big Sky Conference Player-of-the-Year Garret Olson to graduation along with Haiden Perez. Olson was a first team all-state tournament selection at Baker in June.
“We lost one very good player (Olson) from the team, but the good news is everybody else came back and they’re experienced players too,” said Hull, who has a 13-player varsity/JV roster. “We have six of our top seven players back this year, so in terms of experience, these players were on my main rotation, and we had the third-best team in the state. We have a lot of experienced players and so we have high expectations. We are really hoping to get back to state and have the same kind of opportunity that we had last season.”
Returning Redside players include seniors Remington Anderson-Sheer and Oscar Thomas, juniors James Best and Ian Ongers, and sophomore Joey Holloway. Ongers played great in the third-place game in June and scored 19 points to help lead the Redsides to the win and bring home a trophy.
“They’re all excited and they’re ready to get at it,” said Hull. “The hardest thing about winning a district championship and going to state is that you have to get there first in order to do it the next time. Luckily, we’re now coming at it from the aspect that we’ve been there and we have the experience and hopefully it will turn out to be a successful season for us.”
The Redsides begin a 24-game schedule with a nonleague road game Dec. 3 versus the Wallowa Cougars at 7:30 p.m. South Wasco also plays nonleague road games Dec. 4 against the Joseph Eagles and Dec. 7 versus the Class 3A Irrigon Knights. The Redsides play their first home game Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. against the Dayville/Monument Tigers at South Wasco County High School in Maupin.
“We tried to put some tough games on our preseason schedule to help us prepare for the regular season,” said Hull. “We have a lot of experience and I’m expecting to see lots of good things from our six returning players from the successful team we had during the spring season.”
Dufur is expected to be a playoff contender, as well, and has a strong team led by 6-foot-6 post Marcus Radcliffe. The Rangers, guided by Coach Hollie Darden, were also a state playoff team in the spring and finished in seventh place in the tournament at Baker City with a 9-4 overall record. However, the Rangers lost nine seniors to graduation and replacing them on the roster will not be an easy task.
“Our seniors had most of the playing time in the spring, since it was kind of an unofficial season,” said Darden. “They were in the program for four years and I took the liberty to reward them for that. I wanted to let the seniors determine their destiny since it was such a short season. We have some kids that can play, and we’ll be competitive, but we’re going to have to really play well to compete against some of the better teams in the state who will have more experience than we do.”
The Rangers will have an entirely new starting five from the spring season. Players who are expected to be key contributors and step into the role as likely starters include juniors Josh Taylor, Landon Ellis, sophomore JJ Johnson and senior Gabe Petroff.
Dufur begins the season with a nonleague road game at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 3 versus the Jordan Valley Mustangs at Powder Valley High School, followed by a Dec. 4 ,12:30 p.m. nonleague road contest against Powder Valley. The Rangers’ first Big Sky League game is Dec. 17 at Trout Lake; Dufur’s first home game is Dec. 18 versus the Horizon Christian High Hawks.
The Sherman High Huskies have a strong squad led by senior Dillon Stanfield and juniors Kole Martin, Cade von Borstel and Eduardo Rubio. Stanfield is the only senior on Sherman’s squad, which has a total of 19 players on the varsity/JV teams, including nine freshmen. The Huskies, guided by fourth-year Coach Gary Lewis, struggled in the spring, posting a 2-5 record and they lost five seniors to graduation. Last year, Lewis guided both the Husky boys and girls teams, but this season things will be much easier for him as he’s coaching only the boys team.
“I was pleased with our effort at the first day of practice, but we have a long, long way to go,” said Lewis. “The kids came in with a great attitude and they worked hard. We have an extremely young group and it’s going to be a challenging year, but it’s going to be fun. I feel much better about having just one team to coach this year. It was quite a learning curve for me staying up for both groups and trying to remember what you’re doing for both teams. I enjoyed it and I had a great group of girls to coach. I just didn’t feel like I could give either team what they needed.”
The Husky offense will revolve mainly around Martin, Rubio, Stanfield, von Borstel and sophomore Luke Fritts, who are expected to score the majority of Sherman’s points.
Sherman begins its 22-game season at home Dec. 3 with a 7:30 p.m. nonleague matchup against the Pilot Rock Rockets in Moro. The Sherman County Invitational Tournament will be Dec. 3-4 and the Huskies will face a yet-to-be-determined opponent on Dec. 4. A couple of Class 2A squads will also play in the tournament, including the Culver High Bulldogs and the Mannahouse Christian High Lions of Portland.
Horizon will be guided by new head Coach Kim Linder, who takes over for longtime (11 years) Coach Darrin Lingel, who retired after the spring season. Horizon lost seven seniors to graduation last spring. Returning players who will fill the roles of the departed seniors include Mason Bates, Caleb Yuan, Arthur Li, Luke Wells and Julius Gutierrez.
“It is exciting to coach such a focused group of quality young men,” said Linder. “Our seniors, Josh Rogers and Alex Whitaker, are providing excellent leadership and they will be leaned on heavily on and off the court.”
The Hawks open the season Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. with a matchup on the road against the Central Christian Tigers in Redmond. The Hawks play their first home game Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. versus the North Clackamas Christian Saints of Oregon City.
“I’m encouraged by the group of incoming freshmen who have joined the program,” said Linder. “The coaching staff (Bryan Robertson) and I look forward to working with each player in their new roles to become the best team we can be. It is early preseason, but from what I have seen, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season for the Horizon Christian boys basketball program.”
Class 1A teams from Washington that will also be competing in the Big Sky League for the first time and hope to have some success include the Trout Lake High Mustangs, Lyle/Wishram High Cougars, Bickleton High Pirates, and the Klickitat/Glenwood High Vandals.
The Cougars meet the Pirates in the season opener for both teams in a 6:30 p.m. nonleague matchup at Bickleton High School. Klickitat/Glenwood opens its season with a 7:30 p.m. contest Dec. 17 on the road at Horizon Christian in Hood River. Trout Lake begins its season Dec. 6 at home in a 6:30 p.m. nonleague matchup versus the Condon Blue Devils.