Union remains undefeated but plays in a tough league
It’s that time of year again.
League play is here, everywhere in Clark County, as basketball gets into its stretch run.
Today, we focus on the boys basketball programs. The mission was to get notes from every squad from Clark County in Classes 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A. We asked coaches what they have learned so far and what has been their favorite moment with the team, on or off the court. We look to get to the girls basketball teams soon.
Let’s start with the 4A GSHL. (Alphabetical order)
BATTLE GROUND (6-6, 0-0)
Not afraid of a tough schedule, one could argue it was Battle Ground’s toughest non-league schedule of all time, playing in the prestigious Les Schwab Invitational.
“We started off 6-2 and looking to bounce back after going 0-4 at the LSI,” coach Manny Melo said. “We have made some adjustments, and guys are really stepping up at practice as we head into league play.”
Favorite moment: Having dinner at Rocky’s Pizza with the whole program.
Numbers: Kaden Perry is averaging 21.8 points and 13.9 rebounds per game. Still tough to think he is only a junior. Oh, and he already picked his college: Top-ranked Gonzaga. Cole Billingsley is leading the team in assists at close to four per game.
CAMAS (4-8, 0-1)
Speaking of tough schedules, how about Camas’ journey to the 4A GSHL? The Papermakers have played two top-five teams in Washington, then three top-10 teams in Oregon.
“We have been trying to develop chemistry with a roster that was only finalized in mid-December,” coach Ryan Josephson said.
(Camas basketball has several who played on the state championship football squad that competed into December.)
“We have had to learn that no victory is going to be easily handed to us and that we will have to carry an underdog mindset through the entire season,” the coach added. “The team is steadily improving under the belief that we will have to outwork our opponents, execute with little margin for error, and most importantly, play together.”
Oh, and do that in one of the toughest leagues in the state. (Union and Skyview are on fire, and Battle Ground has one of the best players in the Northwest.)
Favorite moment: Cameron Miller came off the bench and hit six 3-pointers and played tough defense against Madras. “His teammates were going crazy with excitement as he had some terrific minutes on the court.”
Numbers: Christian Lenard is leading the team at 11.4 points per game. Jackson Clemmer is leading the squad in rebounds at 6.8, plus he is second in scoring. Charlie Bump is averaging three assists a game.
HERITAGE (6-6, 0-1)
“What I’ve really liked is we’ve been awfully competitive,” Brian Childs said of his team. “We played a pretty tough non-league schedule. We’re feeling good about the way we have been able to compete.”
For example, a year ago, the Timberwolves got run over by Capital. This year, it was a one-possession game in the final minute. Even in the first league game, Heritage played Skyview tough until the Storm stretched it out to a 10-point victory earlier this week.
The Timberwolves are doing this with an inexperienced group, too, and had to endure a few injuries.
Favorite moment: Childs said the entire trip to Coeur d’alene, Idaho, for a tournament was special. He got to see some old friends and family. The team was treated to a “first-class operation,” the coach said.
The Timberwolves stayed at the Coeur d’alene Resort.
“To go to something like that, to try to give our kids a meaningful experience, that was great,” Childs said. “They treated our kids like gold. When it was time to go home, none of the kids wanted to leave.”
Numbers: Conner Childs leads the team in scoring at 17 points per game. Capone Johnson is doing just about everything, averaging 15 points, seven rebounds, and six assists a game. Eastyn Culp is also in double figures, averaging 10 points per game.
SKYVIEW (11-2, 1-0 4A GSHL)
“I learned that our team can compete with some of the best in the state. Wins over Federal Way and Wilson show that when we are at our best, we can do some good things,” coach Matt Gruhler said. “I have been impressed by the way we have shared the ball and have committed to getting better on the defensive side of the ball.”
Favorite moment: Spending time with the team in Phoenix at the Cactus Jam, the coach said. “We were able to spend some great quality time together, and I know those times will be the things that the team will remember years from now.”
Numbers: Kyle Gruhler is averaging 21.3 points per game. Jace Chatman coming in at 14.4. And Squeeky Johnson is averaging 13.2. Gruhler leads the team at 9.1 boards per outing. Cody McKinney is just a shade under five rebounds. Johnson leads the team with four assists per game.
UNION (13-0, 1-0 4A GSHL)
The Titans beat the two-time defending champs. They beat another final four team. They went to California in search of more competition and beat them all.
“I have learned that we have very tough kids who are hungry to win and play well with each other,” coach Blake Conley said. “We have given our players a lot of freedom to use their basketball IQ, and they have proven that they can use that freedom to win games. I have learned that our team is not satisfied with a good start, and they want to be good beyond November and December.”
Favorite moment: Coach did not list one, but let’s go with Brad Lackey’s 40-point game that included 11 3-pointers. Both are school records.
Numbers: Tanner Toolson leads three players in double-digit scoring. He’s at 21.5 points per game. Lackey is at 15.5 and Kaden Horn is at 14.8. Toolson also is tops in rebounding at 8.5. Josh Reznick is averaging 3.3 assists.
EVERGREEN (9-2, 1-0)
“There is a lot to be proud of from the first half of the season but also a lot we need to clean up in order to achieve our end-of-season goals,” coach Brett Henry said. “We ran into the Union buzzsaw, and it helped us address some of our deficiencies. Later that week, our fifth game in seven days, we ran into a very good Oregon City team that gave us a few other things to address heading into our league season.
“By design, we have played a very difficult schedule and feel like we are now prepared to compete for a league championship.”
Favorite moment: Coach, his wife, and their two sons had the players over to their house for a team dinner.
Numbers: Jaden Stanley is leading Evergreen at 15.1 points, 3.0 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. Mario Herring is averaging a double-double at 10.7 points and 10 rebounds per night.
FORT VANCOUVER (5-6, 1-0)
The Trappers feel they are better than their overall record, and they expect to compete in the 3A GSHL.
“We learned that we just need to put it all together,” coach James Ensley said. “We also learned that defense and rebounding will be keys to our success.”
No game in the league will be easy, the coach added, but at the same time, no other team will be overlooking the Trappers this season.
Favorite moment: Coach did not list one, but c’mon, it’s easy. Kahlil Singleton scored 55 points in a game, breaking the school record. Singleton’s 55 might be the best all-time for a Clark County high school basketball player.
Numbers: Singleton is averaging 23.6 points per game. Tre Cannon is second on the team at 10.7. Keyontae Cage is at 8.0 points per game. Tyrique Cargilie is doing a little bit of everything, with 5.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
HUDSON’S BAY (3-8, 0-0)
The Eagles are in a rebuild mode so they will look to just keep improving.
“A new team,” Hudson’s Bay coach Theo Mikaele said. “So much needed.”
He is hoping his players will learn to better identify their roles.
Favorite moment: Some teams stay around the Northwest. Others head south for some sun in California or Arizona. The Eagles? They went north. Way, way north. Played four games in Alaska. Coach said the entire trip was memorable.
Numbers: Tony King is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game. Isaiah Davis is averaging 12 points per game.
MOUNTAIN VIEW (1-9, 0-1)
The Thunder coaches say they have learned a lot about their players. Head coach JC Alexander said he appreciates their ability to move on to the next play, or game, and not let things get them down. The scoreboard has been a struggle, but not the attitudes of the players.
Favorite moment: The Thunder went to Arizona for a tournament, then watched a Pac-12 women’s battle between Arizona and Arizona State.
Numbers: Austin Lee, a junior, is leading the team in scoring at 15 points a game. He also is grabbing six rebounds. Senior Colby Smith leads the team in rebounds at seven per game.
PRAIRIE (5-6, 0-1)
The Falcons are working hard under difficult circumstances. Their head coach, Kyle Brooks, is in the hospital and will not return to the sideline in this, his 20th season with the Falcons. His wife, Jane, said he will make a full recovery but it will be a long process.
In the meantime, the Falcons are playing under assistant coach Jimmy Tuominen.
“They have a lot of mental toughness and do a really good job of handling adversity,” Tuominen said. “We’re still working on becoming better as a team. Hope we can continue to make progress throughout the league portion of our season.”
Strong moment: “Just seeing how the kids responded after hearing the news about Coach Brooks,” Tuominen said. “They have come to practice focused and ready to prepare and be better.”
Numbers: Aidan Fraly is averaging close to 18 points per game. AJ Dixson and Zeke Dixson are second and third in scoring. Reece Walling leads in rebounding.
COLUMBIA RIVER (6-2, 3-0)
Here they are again, atop the standings three games into league play
Different year, same result.
The Chieftains do not rebuild. They just get it done with the next wave of talent, year after year.
Of course, it helps to have a few savvy veterans back. A year ago, the Chieftains earned a No. 2 seed going into the state regional round. They were upset, but rebounded in the next game to make it to Yakima, for the final 12.
Nate Snook was a huge part of that team’s success, and he’s back this season, leading a balanced attack. Dylan Valdez has stepped up his game. And Alex Miller had a 34-point game earlier this season.
“A really balanced group. No egos,” coach David Long said, noting five different players have led the team in scoring this season.
Favorite moment: The 34-point game from Miller. Not just for Miller, but for the whole team, the coach said. “That was a pretty special night. Everybody was feeding him,” Long said. And everybody was celebrating with Miller as he just couldn’t miss.
HOCKINSON (3-6, 0-1)
“We learned that we can’t take anything for granted,” coach Jonathan Warner said. “We can compete at a high level when we are committed on the defensive end, hold our opponents to one shot by rebounding well, and control the pace of the game.”
The Hawks are without one of the top players in the region again. Peyton Brammer suffered an injury in football.
“Our league is shaping up to be very competitive, and we need to play a complete game against every league opponent to be successful,” the coach said.
Favorite moment: Coach did not list one, but let’s go with back-to-back wins over Class 3A competition.
Numbers: Micah Paulsen is averaging 13 points and three assists per game. Jeremiah Faulstick is a double-double machine at 10 points and 10 rebounds, plus he is dishing out three assists a game.
RIDGEFIELD (7-4, 1-2)
“We have the potential to be really good. We have the potential to be average. It’s a talented team we have. Just have to figure out how to get it going in the right direction,” coach Jason Buffum said.
The Spudders beat a quality team, then lost the next game, then came back to beat another strong team, then had a tough performance on offense the next.
“It’s game to game,” Buffum said. “When you’re not used to winning a lot, it can be hard to have the hammer down all the time. We’re trying to figure that out. We have a lot of nice pieces.”
Favorite moment: Buffum said this is a very quiet, introverted team. So it was a blast to see the players go a little crazy during their off day at the San Diego tournament. “They had a blast riding scooters” on the beach, the coach said. “Now, if you could talk that much on defense,” he joked.
Numbers: Josh Mansur is averaging around 20 points per game, the coach said. Carson Knight leads the team in rebounds. Brandon Kent is the assists leader.
WASHOUGAL (7-3, 3-0)
A physically intimidating team with a lot of talent. Every member of the starting lineup is more than 200 pounds.
“They usually show up ready to play,” coach AJ LaBree said. “A little bit goofy at practice. They’re having fun out there. As long as they keep playing hard and we’re getting results, we’ll embrace that and we’re going to run with it.”
There are four seniors on the team, and they all played football. Washougal football had its best season in decades.
“They really set an example,” the coach said. “They learned it there, and it’s carrying over to basketball.”
Favorite moment: The Panthers won at Mark Morris. The coach said he is not sure if that has ever happened. “Just good to get that monkey off our back, to get a win over an excellent program,” LaBree said. The best part for him? His players did not overreact. They expected to win. “They acted like it was business as usual.”
WOODLAND (6-4, 1-1)
“They are tough, resilient, and together,” new coach Jesse Buck said of the Beavers. “I’m very proud of our team and excited for league play.”
Favorite moment: The Beavers had lost their first two games of the season, then had three players out due to illness for the third game but still got the victory.
“We played a great game,” Buck said. “After the game, I went into the locker room to address the team, and they were gone. I thought maybe they had left to talk to their parents or something. All of a sudden, they come around the corner and mobbed me, celebrating my first career win. I’ll always remember that night.”
Numbers: Isaiah Flanagan is averaging 16 points per game. Trey Hanson is at 10 points per game. Isaac Hall is the top rebounder and seven. Brady Burns is averaging four assists and four steals a game.
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN (6-4, 1-0)
“There is a significant difference between the desire to win and the willingness to do the small things required to win,” coach Daven Harmeling said.
The Knights, who made it to the state championship game a year ago, are going to have to start doing those little things in order to make another huge run this season.
Favorite moment: The Knights got some sun, playing in a tournament in San Diego.
Numbers: Bryson Metz and Brady Mets are both averaging 14.1 points per game. Bryson Metz also is dishing out six assists per outing. Kobi Cason is the team leader with 5.5 rebounds a game.
LA CENTER (7-3, 1-0)
“We’ve got a lot of leadership and experience on this team,” coach Jeremy Ecklund said.
Oh, and the team is hungry, too.
Five senior starters, and they are all still bummed about the winter of 2019. La Center reached the state’s final four.
“The boys were disappointed being so close to the state title game. They definitely have a bad taste in their mouth from being so close,” the coach said. “They definitely want to get there again.”
Not just the final four, but beyond.
Favorite moment: On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the Wildcats skip out on basketball practice for an evening and hang out … all night. They have a sleepover at the La Center gym. They played a wild game of volleyball. They watched a movie. Oh, and the coach takes their phones away. Just a time to enjoy one another’s company. Then they practiced at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Numbers: Hunter Ecklund is leading the team in the Big Three categories of scoring, rebounding, and assists. He is averaging 22 points per game. Evan Norris, who had 35 points in Wednesday’s game, is averaging close to 15 a game. Cedric Hubler is second on the team in rebounding. The Ball twins, Parker and Hunter, are making significant contributions. Parker Ball is the team’s best 3-point shooter.
SETON CATHOLIC (5-6, 0-1)
“They have a lot of heart. These guys don’t give up,” coach Kris Small said. “They get frustrated at times, just like everybody else, but they have a lot of heart. Just really good kids.”
Favorite moment: Seton Catholic played in the SunDome Shootout in Yakima and got a couple of wins there over quality competition. Off the court was even a better experience.
“We got to take them to the world famous Miner’s Restaurant,” Small said. “For some of them, it was their first time. Huge burgers, great food. Just a great time hanging out with the guys. A really good moment, a really good weekend.”Numbers: Gabe Anderson is leading the team in scoring at 14 points per game, and he’s the team leader in assists. Xavian Rushing is averaging 10.9 points per game and is the team’s top rebounder. Kellen Ball is averaging 10.9 points.