We’re all used to seeing the same old schools competing on the final days of the state basketball tournaments. The established programs continually rise to the top.
Local basketball teams bucked the status quo this year.
- Kelso boys brought home their first trophy since 1959.
- Mark Morris boys made the state semifinals for the first time in a decade.
- Toutle Lake boys made the state tournament for the first time since 2012.
- Naselle boys won their first state tournament game since 1995.
- Ilwaco girls won back-to-back state trophies for only the second time in program history.
- Clatskanie girls made their first quarterfinal appearance since 2011.
- Rainier girls finished with a trophy for the first time since 2013.
Long droughts ended; local teams pulled upsets; and teams came out of nowhere to surprise state powerhouses. It was a stellar year for local hoops, which had six state medalists and nine state qualifiers.
The Monarchs ended as the highest local finisher. On paper, this team looked like one of the least talented groups coach Bill Bakamus has had in his tenure with MM. But they played as a team and were unparalleled in effort and discipline. The Berger twins were stellar; it was the role players, though, that came through in the clutch. Zach Rismoen delivered a game-winner in the state quarterfinals; Dawson Fritz was as gritty on the hardwood as he was on the gridiron; and Tanner Vaillencourt is everything a coach wants in a player.
Kelso used a similar recipe for success. The Scotties competed against Division I players, and Shaw Anderson proved he belonged in the conversation with them. But Kelso, too, thrived on team ball. Riley Noah, Peyton Noah, Anders Gamble, Emmitt Kinch didn’t need the spotlight. They just stepped up when needed. Like when Riley Noah hit a game-tying free throw to send the trophy game with Timberline to overtime, or when Emmitt Kinch lit up O’Dea to keep the Scotties alive.
Toutle Lake, too, thrived on team ball, unselfish play and a desire to let it all ride in the seniors’ final year. After finishing fifth in the Central 2B League, Toutle Lake peaked at the right time and made it a special finale for the coaches’ kids and their friends.
The Ilwaco girls didn’t finish with the gold ball, but it was hard not to get choked up seeing Makenzie Kaech, Eliza Bannister and Madeline Jacobson’s era end with the Fishermen. Two state trophies is still a mighty big accomplishment for a team few pegged to get out of regionals years ago.
Desi Hansen in Rainier got to cap her illustrious career with a trophy. She could do it all, and there’s no player with more desire to make her teammates shine. She shows her support year-round as one of the most enthusiastic kids in every student section. On the court, she left us in awe more often than not.
Maybe we’ll see the same from Naselle’s Kolby Glenn in three years. His overwhelming knowledge of the game and court vision make it hard to believe he’s a freshman. Across the Columbia, it was a pair of Clatksanie freshmen that dazzled us, too. Shelby Blodgett paced the area in scoring, and her numbers were unfathomable for a ninth-grader. Her cohort Olivia Sprague often went overlooked, and she was still averaging numbers few ever achieve. The duo will be shining in Clatskanie for many years to come.
Most of this year’s hoops’ season was filled with the unexpected. Never have we had to so often confirm the spelling of a 20-point scorer because we just hadn’t heard the name before, or double-take at a score we couldn’t believe.
Congratulations, hoopers, on your stellar winter. We had a blast watching what you achieved this year.