Nobody, especially a competitor, ever sets out to be a bench player. But somewhere along the line that designation befalls anyone lucky enough to play that long.
For some the role arrives early and they learn to pick up their teammates at their YMCA games and on the playground. For others the playing time grows scarce as they reach from middle school to high school, or from JV to varsity. No matter how good a player is, the fact remains that one day they will wind up on the bench. Heck, even Vince Carter, a man who once jumped over a 7’2” human being at the Olympics and dunked mercilessly upon his soul, found himself relegated to a bench role in what is likely his final season in the NBA. Before his final exit, though, Carter rose off the bench to a loving roar of the crowd and promptly sank a three-pointer. The applause was a testament to Carter’s success transitioning from a young super star to a veteran player who found a way to maximize his impact from the bench and within the locker room.
Former Mark Morris star Rem Bakamus, who went on to make a name and reputation for himself at the end of the Gonzaga bench, had this to say when asked about the importance of an invested Bench Mob:
“The bench mob is an essential piece to a team’s success. It is built up of high energy individuals who help the team get better in every way possible. The mob is always uplifting and engaged and can truly be an advantage during games.”
That’s why this year The Daily News All-Area team has switched formats. This season, instead of a First Team, Second Team, and so on, the players who were considered for first-team honors have been included as a Bench Mob. The term first-team and second-team implies that these players are not of a similar caliber when in fact, they most certainly are.
By moving to a Bench Mob format we’re hoping that players within the TDN coverage area will recognize that along the Lower Columbia not all competition must be adversarial. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Coverage Zone: Cline Takes the Cake on All-Area Hoops Team
A couple of cups of boiled down bone broth defense. A liberal slurry of athleticism and cunning. A healthy ration of lean gym rat and diced bunnies between the block and the elbow with essence of a textured orange orb as a garnish at their fingertips.
These are the basic ingredients required to begin cooking up a spot on the TDN boys All-Area basketball team
Of course any player, like a chef in their own kitchen, can bring their own flavor and inflection to the table. And this year’s bunch, with its representatives from Winlock, Wahkiakum, Woodland, Kelso, Toutle Lake, Naselle and Rainier.
Some add a little bit of mustard to make ends meet. Others show off their natural hot sauce sizzle with their handles on the skillet. A few even have a knack for turning in a well-timed hot dog or two.
But mostly, this batch of logger camp cookies relied on meat and potato fundamentals in an effort to feed the masses and fuel team success. Any bits that didn’t pass the sniff test? That’s just where a good chef spreads a little extra gravy.
This year’s MVP, Bryce Cline of Winlock, arguably carried the most water for his team while also putting up the most consistent stat line across all classifications.
Of course, you’re entitled to think we’re wrong. And if you’re any kind of fan at all, and your favorite player didn’t make the cut this year, we expect you to be like Michael Jordan on the junior varsity and carry a chip on your shoulder.
Just be sure to share your takes with the masses by finding us on Twitter via @SamBarbee1, @mckennamorin, @TheDailyNailon, and @TDNpreps. Do we have a Facebook or Instagram account?
- Bryce Cline, Winlock, 6’0”, senior
The Winlock Cardinals’ season didn’t end how they wanted it to.
They secured a high seed in the district tournament but labored through it before eventually falling to Willapa Valley in a winner-to-state, loser out game. It was a less-than-ideal finish, but there is a small consolation for senior Bryce Cline. The cocksure do-it-all guard is The Daily News All-Area boys MVP for the 2019-20 basketball season after averaging 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals while leading Winlock to one of its finest seasons in recent memory.
“Bryce would have started on any team in the region,” Cardinals coach Nick Bamer insisted. “I’m not sure if he would have been the GSHL MVP, that Snook kid is pretty good, but he would have been a difference maker at any school around...The top end of our league can play with anyone.”
Cline meant everything to the Cardinals, and it wasn’t just his on-court contributions. He was a leader.
The C2BL MVP, Lower Columbia senior All-Star, and WIBCA All-State selection nearly willed the Cardinals to several wins with desperation bank threes at the end of the shot clock or, in other cases, played top-notch defense while in foul trouble or in the odd event that his shots weren’t falling.
He was also Winlock’s only captain. His spirit, energy and confidence were invaluable to Winlock this season, even if they fell short of the dream of Spokane.
“He was our team captain, and our only team captain. A lot of teams do two for basketball but we’ve only done one the last two years and it’s been him.” said Bamer. “All the way down through our JVs he was the first to give a high-five. He’s always got a smile on his face and bouncing around. His confidence and his personality rubs on everybody around him.”
Cline is the first small-school All-Area MVP since 2013-14 when Toledo’s Grant McEwen took the honor home to Cheese Town.
The Cardinals senior recognized the significance of having overcome the inherent, or perceived, bias that can exist between big school and smaller schools. But that doesn’t mean good players don’t exist at the lower levels. The state’s all-time leading scorer, Ryan Moffet, plays at 1B Odessa. Moffet went viral this season by stating with aplomb that small school players can go toe-to-toe with big school players.
Cline agrees and also proves the point.
“It is meaningful, coming from a small school,” Cline said. “Nobody really pays attention to small schools. They all think about the 3As, 4As, not 2Bs or anything like that. So it does mean a lot to me and my Winlock community and the town. It means a lot.”
- Broc Keeton, Toutle Lake, 6’1”, senior
Broc Keeton is one player who can testify first-hand to Cline’s talents on the courts. However, Keeton’s fighting Ducks are also one of the only teams who can say they got the best of the All-Area MVP and the rest of the birds from the Egg City.
Toutle Lake was able to defeat Winlock twice during the regular season in order to capture the Central 2B League championship. The Ducks then rode Keeton to a second place finish at the district tournament before an ankle injury left the senior essentially one-legged at state where the team from East Cowlitz County finished sixth.
“He really worked on his game this summer. He played tournament stuff and spent a lot of time,” Toutle Lake coach Eric Swanson noted. “He really developed getting by people and finishing. He had some really good individual moves and obviously his outside three point shot. Those are the things that I really noticed.”
With that work Keeton wound up averaging 16 points, eight rebounds, 4.5 assists, and two steals a game in a season where he was unquestionably the straw that stirred the drink for the Ducks. That work resulted in a first-team selection by the C2BL coaches and a spot in the Lower Columbia Senior All-Star game.
“It was just disappointing, I mean I understand that injuries happen, but it was disappointing that it happened on that Monday before state because they didn’t get to see the real Broc,” Swanson lamented.
- Ethan Lindstrom, Naselle, 5’11”, senior
Ethan Lindstrom basically stepped onto the basketball court this year while still picking bits of turf out of his teeth following a long run to the state championship game with the Comets’ football team.
But once he had his cleats swapped out for P.E. approved shoes the senior was able to help Naselle keep the momentum from the gridiron rolling right along. As such, the Comets picked up both a league and district title before placing third at state.
This year was the first year back at the helm for Naselle coach Bill Olsen and he had limited information on Lindstrom coming into the season. After a run that saw Lindstrom named MVP of the 1B Columbia Valley League and selected for the Lower Columbia Senior All-Star game, reality speaks for itself.
“I’d heard from previous coaches that they were pretty senior oriented the year before so he wasn’t ‘The Guy,” last year. I think he actually came off the bench but he’s just a competitor and just came on for us right from the get go,” Olsen said.
Lindstrom averaged 17.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.8 steals this season, including a 32 point outburst in a comeback win over Ocosta. He also held Washington’s all-time leading scorer, Ryan Moffett, to just six points in a six-point state semifinal loss to Odessa. Lindstrom was subsequently selected by the Spokesman Review for the All-State Tournament second team. The WIBCA tabbed him as a first team All-State player.
Olsen noted that Lidnstrom’s best sport is baseball and he wishes he could watch him trade his sneakers in for a different pair of cleats this spring.
“It’s a shame I won’t get to watch him play high school baseball now. He’s just a great kid. He looks you in the eye. Says yes, Sir. He was just raised the right way,” Olsen said. “He’s a pretty galdarn good steelhead fisherman as well. He lives right on the Naselle and when he’s not playing he’s hitting the fish pretty hard out there.”
- Josh Webb, Kelso, 6’0”, senior
Josh Webb is like the junk drawer in the kitchen. He’s difficult for coaches to describe in concise terms but he possesses a litany of useful tools that made him the most essential asset on a talented Kelso team.
Webb helped the Hilanders to a third place finish in the 3A Greater St. Helens League by averaging 11 points and 2.5 steals per game while leading the team in rebounding with six boards per contest. Kelso coach Joe Kinch was quick to point out one statistical oddity in particular—Webb has taken 29 charges over the past two years.
“He’s got a pretty unique skill set,” Kinch said. “He was able to guard anyone, he often guarded the opponent’s big if we thought that was our best matchup.”
Those sort of contributions landed Webb on the second team All-GSHL list along with a prime spot on the Lower Columbia Senior All-Star squad.
Kinch pointed out a home contest against Fort Vancouver as Webb’s best game of the season. The double-double was well-timed, too, as Kelso was still working to stay alive for a top three spot in their league. The Kelso coach added that Webb’s contributions were myriad because he could score or stop a scorer, he could take the tough shot or he could set a teammate up for an easy score. Most of all, he could rebound better than his physical stats would belie.
“I think as he went through our program I think he really bought into some of our techniques that allowed him to stay out of foul trouble and play more,” Kinch said.
- Isaiah Flanagan, Woodland, 6’2”, senior
The Woodland boys put together a late season run that captivated the imaginations of more than just Beavers fans who all share the same well. We’ll dive deep and wide into that wild ride just a little while later but for now let’s look at the player who made the most waves above the surface—Isaiah Flanagan.
Woodland coach (again, more on that later) Jesse Buck described Flanagan as a “big motor” guy and anyone who has ever seen the Beavers play, or practice, knows that’s an accurate assessment.
“Honestly, Isaiah is the hardest working player I’ve been around as an assistant or head coach, regardless of sport,” Buck said. “Sometimes it’s a little too much and he’d be the first to tell you that, especially on the offensive end, but he just never stops working.”
Flanagan averaged 15 points and five rebounds per game this season while helping Woodland chomp against the grain all the way to the Regional round of the state playoffs. For his efforts he was named to the second team 2A GSHL team and landed a spot in the Lower Columbia Senior All-Star game.
Even when Woodland suffered through a near-disastrous midseason swoon Flanagain’s leadership never faltered.
“What he did every rep and every day was a huge key. Going through that losing stretch when things weren’t going our way usually guys start not working as hard or seeing a ceiling but he never wavered and it really inspired me,” Buck said. “Every play was very much led by example. He would say something when it needed to be said but he’s not a big talker… To be our best player and to do that it was pretty inspirational for the rest of us.”
- Conner Rea, Rainier, 6’3”, senior
Connor Rea quietly had a fantastic season, averaging 20.6 points per game with 6.5 rebounds. 4.2 assists and a steal per game. He led Rainier to its first perfect league slate on the sales-tax-free side of the mighty river and got the Columbians a game away from the state tournament, falling to eventual state champ Oregon Episcopal.
Long and lean with a nose for the ball Rea averaged 20.6 points, 6.5 rebounds. 4.2 assists, and one steal per game. Those stats made him a unanimous selection as MVP of the 3A Coastal League.
“He had a great year. Last year we had a lot of seniors that had been playing as a group for quite awhile,” Rainier coach Logan Nelson said. “This year he stepped up He had to step into more of a dominant, complete roll, where it was his team.”
Last year Rea was an All-Area honorable mention. Nelson noted that this season Rea was called upon to guard all five positions at one point or another and never backed down from assignments that might have looked weird on paper or unconventional on the court. He was also able to flush home a dunk, posted a couple of thirty point games, and even notched a 24-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist triple double.
“He’s just dependable,” Nelson explained. “This year he kind of came back with a chip on his shoulder and tried to give it to everyone he could.
- Jake Leitz, Wahkiakum, 6’3”, junior
Leitz is the only non-senior on this year’s All-Area first team and his spot perhaps the most surprising.
A junior, Leitz came into the season relatively unheralded. Then he and the rest of the pack of Mules finished sixth in the C2BL to slip in the barn door to the district playoffs. But once Wahkiakum was dancing they made the most of their time on the floor and wound up with just enough upsets to qualify for state. Only a buzzer-beater by Lake Roosevelt was able to turn the Mules back into wallflowers.
That surprising charge through the postseason was powered in large part by Letiz who finished the playoffs with an average of 18.2 points, 12.5 rebounds (4.5 offensive), and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 62 percent on all two-point attempts. For the season he averaged 21.5 points and 15.1 rebounds.
“Just from a rebounding standpoint he’s a guy who has a nose for the ball and he seems to always be around the ball,” Wahkiakum coach Todd Souvenir said. “He just really gets us going. The guys get excited. He’s just a great guy — he’ s long and athletic and makes plays.”
Last season the Mules scrapped to make the playoffs and were then stung by a tough loss to Napavine that left Leitz and company uniquely motivated all offseason. This season Leitz was voted to the C2BL All-League first team by the coaches, so people have certainly begun to notice.
“He’s worked really hard on his vert and obviously you can see that,” Souvenir explained. “Even on shots that are his own misses he can go up and get the rebound because he’s so quick getting off the floor.”
Coach of the Year
Jesse Buck, Woodland, 1st year, 13-13
The Woodland Beavers won the Coach of the Year award for their first year coach by virtue of their best-selling narrative.
Late in his first campaign in charge Jesse Buck’s team fell into the throes of a seven-game losing streak. They looked finished. Anyone with even a remote interest would be forgiven if they had assumed the Beavers just didn’t have the experience to pull out of such a profound tailspin.
It’s just that those doubters were all wrong.
Woodland wound up winning back-to-back games on the final two days of the season just to stay alive and then had to win a pigtail game in order to earn the right to face the GSHL champions from Columbia River. The Beavers went ahead and did all that with a working man’s panache and wound up winning all the way until the district title game.
“I told the team and the coaching staff more than a couple times that ‘I’m sure there will be times in my coaching career where I look back and say, ‘Man, I wish these guys worked as hard as my first group,’” Buck said, already feeling wistful for his inaugural Beaver crew.
Buck praised his players for their selflessness and noted how grateful he was that there were no internal issues over playing time or any other matter.
“Everyone acts like that should be easy to navigate, but it’s not. You can have a great culture and still have guys who think they should be playing more,” Buck said. “It seems like a rare thing these days. I mean, I never played on a team like that where, literally 1-11, they were happy for the other guys.”
Even as they plummeted toward the bottom of the GSHL over a three week spell the Beavers never turned on each other. Instead they simply reserved themselves to working harder and smoothing out the kinks.
“Every time we took one of those losses I’d come to practice the next day and they were locked in and ready to go. It was weird almost,” Buck said.
Even then, it was hard to imagine a path to the regional round. Still, Buck says there was one timeout that stands out as a moment when anything seemed possible.
“I’d have to pick the halftime at Hockinson at our place where we had to win to stay alive mathematically. At halftime I just kind of challenged them and they played with the most confidence I saw at any point in the season,” Buck explained. “That’s when it kind of started taking off. They even had Journey’s, ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ playing during one timeout. I remember telling the guys, ‘Check it out, they’re playing Journey right now… Let’s go!’”
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