Senior grew up a Chieftains fan and now is leading the team to the playoffs once again
VANCOUVER — Nate Snook has played varsity basketball with the Columbia River Chieftains in all four of his seasons.
He’s been a Chieftain a lot longer than that, though.
“It’s where I grew up. I live, literally, right across the street. I grew up watching River basketball,” he said.
“I don’t know anything else.”
He also knows a lot about winning.
The Chieftains just completed another perfect Class 2A Greater St. Helens League campaign. They are 16-3 overall and in the top five in the WIAA’s RPI. Columbia River will open district play with a home game against Woodland at 7 p.m., Sat., Feb. 15.
The goal, of course, is to advance to the state regional round, and then to the state tournament in Yakima.
A year ago, everyone just knew Columbia River would do that.
This year, though? Definitely some question marks coming into the season.
“Of course I was worried,” Snook acknowledged. “We lost three key starters. One was our leading scorer. Another was one of the best defenders in school history. We just had to step it up and try to fill in for them the best that we could.”
Guess that philosophy worked.
“We’re playing pretty well right now,” Snook said. “I think we can ride this wave all the way through.”
Columbia River coach David Long said he loves having so many players who can carry the load. This season, six different players have led the team in scoring at least once.
Snook is averaging 14.5 points per game. It would be more, Long said, but Snook is having his best passing season, as well.
“He realizes other guys can score,” Long said, noting that as a coach, he feels like he has six starters, all who can shoot.
The team’s biggest surprise has to be Dylan Valdez, who is averaging 12.7 points per game.
“He’s the best big man in the league,” Long said. “Never thought I’d say that a year ago.”
Valdez just worked and worked and worked on his game.
In fact, Snook said that really is the case for all of the Chieftains.
“Improvement. Everybody on our team has drastically improved in just about everything,” Snook said.
Alex Miller has sacrificed some of his points, too. He is averaging nine a game but has it in him to go for the high 20s or even 30s.
Forget about offense for a bit, though. This team is defensive. The Chieftains are giving up just 41 points per league game.
“Defense is all about attitude,” Long said. “This group has physical talent but also has a great attitude toward playing defense.”
Now this group is looking to return to Yakima.
In 2019, the Chieftains lost in the state regional seeding game, won the round-of-12 game in Yakima, but then lost twice once advancing to the quarterfinals. They learned a lot, Snook said.
“The intensity level and the atmosphere is so much different than a regular high school game,” he said. “You learn to keep your head and not focus on any outside things and get the job done.”
That is the plan for all of the Chieftains this time, especially for the senior who has been a Columbia River lifer.
This place is home, and he wants to place at state and bring home a trophy.