There’s something to be said about senior leadership. Sometimes, though, there’s lots of it, and that’s creating a unique paradox for a few area teams.
Ilwaco, Kalama and Toledo boys’ teams all carry five or more seniors on the roster, many of whom are either starting or come off the bench early in games. Other schools, like Mark Morris or Toutle Lake, always seem to carry three or so seniors in the starting rotation but have always managed to stay ahead of the pack. Neither of those two programs have dealt with what Toledo and Kalama are, though.
“This year I’ve got 11 seniors, and seven are the top seven in the rotation,” Toledo coach Grady Fallon said. “It’s by far the most I’ve ever had. I had two, then six, then four, then six. It just comes and goes, so you have to look at your current team and do what’s best for them, and the next priority is to do what’s best for next year.”
From Fano Arceo-Hansen and Westin Wallace to Lex Nef and Andreas Malunat, the Indians are packed with veterans.
Fallon’s objective has long been to build a program, and not a roster. That means working with youth programs as much as possible, teaching the basics of his system and nailing down the fundamentals.
Fallon shares that with Ilwaco boys coach Tim Harrell, and the Fishermen have five seniors on the nine-player roster. But what separates the two programs, Harrell says, is that there’s a lower influx of population growth in the Ilwaco School District when compared to some programs in the Central 2B League and schools north of the capitol.
“When you’re out on the coast, it’s different,” Harrell said. “On the I-5 corridor, you have kids moving in. Out here on the coast, you have to nurture the program from youth ball on. … When you play these schools over on the Pacific side, you know what you’re playing year in and year out.”
That also means that the same kids are playing the same teams in youth ball, and there’s very few surprises. Ilwaco’s starting five of Tenyson Ramsey, John Glenn, Alex Kaino, Reese Tynkila and Jeb Sheldon have been playing together since grade school.
Other programs, such as Kalama, have waded through a much different situation. Beyond being reclassified from a 1A school to a 2B in 2016, the program has rostered a large number of seniors over the past two seasons. So not only has the team played a wide swath of competition, they’ve also played with an ever-changing rotation.
Seven seniors appear on the Chinooks roster, though two underclassmen play big minutes on a nightly basis, which should help soften the blow next season.
“I’m a big believer that if there’s a younger kid who is better than the older kid, the better player is going to play,” Chinooks coach Wes Armstrong said. “They challenge each other. Our practices are very competitive, and I love how our younger players compete with the older guys.”
Freshman Jackson Esary and sophomore Tommy Brandenburg are in Kalama’s rotation, and join seniors like Alex Dyer, Max Ross and Grant Vandenberg on the floor.
Armstrong is the only first-year coach of this group, and was faced with a paradox: having so much senior leadership isn’t all upside.
“It is in the fact that you have natural leaders that have been in the program and have real game experience,” Armstrong said. “That’s always nice, because this group has a lot of senior leaders. But the only downside of it is they’ve been playing for a different coach and a different style, and not saying that style is wrong, but it’s different.”
Nestled at the base of Mount St. Helens, Toutle Lake has forever been in the middle. Seniors are virtually always rostered, but Ducks coach Eric Swanson has never had a starting group in their final season of high school hoops.
“We’ve never had five, maybe four. It’s tough for the following year, if you’re a senior-heavy team. But also it wasn’t a killer,” Swanson said. “(The younger kids) have been through the gauntlet with our league schedule and they kind of know what it’s about. … From top to bottom, it’s tough”
Mike Adams, Logan Grabenhorst and Ridge Moss have been in the rotation for a few years now, and represent three-quarters of the Ducks’ senior group.
It’s common for seniors to have enough experience and familiarity with a system to edge out a younger player who might be more physically gifted. Sometimes not, though, and keeping a positive feeling on the bench is something that can be overlooked in coaching. For senior-heavy teams, it’s even more challenging.
“It’s different,” Fallon said. “Usually you have 5-6 swing guys, and give each guy a shot, rooming them for the next season. With a large amount of seniors, you’re trying to win first of all and they’ve earned varsity spots. But you have to balance that with prepping the next group. You can’t ignore them, but you can’t ignore your seniors.”