Lots of new faces on sidelines this winter hoops season

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

The numbers on the scoreboard did not go their way.

But at least they were coaching games, not practices.

After a couple of weeks of practice, high school basketball season tipped off Monday throughout Washington, including several games in Clark County.

Wrestling, gymnastics, boys swimming also start this week. Girls bowling already has rolled out the campaign.

At Columbia River High School, the River girls basketball team lost in coach Carl Click's debut. Later that night on the same gym floor, the Evergreen boys fell in coach Brian Witherspoon's first game with the squad.

Not that the record matters right now, especially for programs with new coaches. There are six this year in the 4A and 3A Greater St. Helens leagues for boys and girls basketball. These early weeks are for learning -- for the players and the coaches.

"You can practice all you want. Until you see it on the court, you don't know how their skills affect the game," Click said. "You don't know what they've got mentally. You learn that in a hurry, and you don't learn it until you get on the court."

His Chieftains were overwhelmed in the first quarter Monday night, but played better in the next three quarters.

"A lot of it is confidence," Click said.

That can be difficult for a team that went 0-20 last year. But Click does not care about the past.

"I have never said the words 'last year,' " he said.

This is reality in Click's world:

"They are wonderfully nice kids. They want to play hard and they want to be successful," he said.

It started this week for the Chieftains.

Same with the Evergreen boys under Witherspoon, who said he considered Monday's opener to be comparable to a preseason scrimmage.

"They're trying to execute a new offense and a new defense, just work hard at it," Witherspoon said. "It's a great opportunity to get out there with refs and really do it."

Witherspoon had been an assistant at Clark College. This is his first head coaching job.

"I wasn't overly nervous. It is different, though," he said. "It's only a six-inch difference from one seat to the next, but it's different.

"All I wanted was the kids to give their best effort and work on the things we've been working on. It was definitely fun, win or lose, getting to have that experience. I'm growing, too."

All Clark County basketball programs will have a tough time topping the finish to last season. The Skyview girls (Class 4A) and Prairie girls (3A) won state championships. The Union boys (4A) finished third. The King's Way Christian boys took fifth at Class 1B.

As for the champions, there have been a lot of changes. Injuries and graduation have made Skyview look like an entirely different team heading into this season.

"We're young and inexperienced," Skyview coach Jennifer Buscher said. "Not really sure what to expect until I can see us against an opponent."

The Storm open Wednesday at Wilson of Tacoma.

"Every year brings its challenges," Buscher said. "We're excited for the challenge to see where we can take this group of kids."

Prairie, as noted often, is beginning a new era. Six-time state champion coach Al Aldridge is now a college coach. Mike Smith is in charge at Prairie.

A few big-name players have made changes, too. Jackie Lanz, a three-time All-Region selection at Prairie, took her talents to Portland. She is at St. Mary's Academy. Emily Rowe, a former Prairie player who later attended St. Mary's, is now at Union. She scored 23 points in her debut with the Titans on Monday. And Kendra Preuninger, who as a freshman helped Camas end Prairie's 10-year streak in Clark County, is finishing her career as a senior at Union.

In gymnastics, Columbia River has finished in the top three at state the past four seasons.

In wrestling, Union is hoping to carry over its momentum from a fourth-place team finish at Mat Classic.

In bowling, defending state champion Wylicia Faley returns to Battle Ground. She led the Tigers to the team title last winter, as well.

In boys swimming, Mountain View and Camas finished eighth and ninth last winter in the 3A state meet. This season, Camas is a 4A program.

All the state titles will work themselves out over the next few months. For now, it's all about fresh starts for winter sports.