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Coupeville Middle School 6th grader Liam Lawson is here to singe the basketball nets, just like mom Kassie and aunts Kayla and Katie did back in the day. (Photo courtesy Kassie O’Neil)

Use every step to build for the future.

There will be stumbles along the way, but the key is to focus on the positives, while being mentally strong enough to identify and work on correcting the negatives.

That’s the mission for this year’s batch of Coupeville Middle School boys’ basketball players, a collection of hoops stars who don’t have much on-court experience as a group but do have a burning desire to keep on growing.

Some days, like Tuesday’s home opener against visiting Lakewood, are bound to be rough.

The Cougars funnel players to a 2A high school, while the Wolves will be competing two rungs below that — at the 2B level — when they cross the gym hallway and become high school athletes.

That means Lakewood has a lot more bodies at its disposal, and a lot more players with prior hoops experience.

As a group, the Cougars are currently faster, tougher, more tenacious, and more skilled at things like snatching rebounds, running offensive sets, and playing heads-up defense than the still-developing Wolves.

But this is how you learn.

So, while Coupeville lost all three games Tuesday, and by fairly large margins, you hope once the lopsided scores vanish from the scoreboard, they partially fade from memory.

All I’m going to say here is that all three tilts went to a running clock, which happens in middle school basketball when you trail by 30 points,

But otherwise, I’m choosing to redact the final tallies.

Instead of dwelling on the score, we’ll focus on the moments players and coaches should remember.

Like when Wyatt Fitch-Marron went sliding across the floor, face-first, surfing the hardwood as he and a rival player fought for a loose ball.

The young Wolf bounced back to his feet, brushed off any pain from bouncing across the floor, and charged right back into the fray, even as mom and grandma (and a few other fans) gasped and winced.

Or we can stop to appreciate a solid move for a bucket in the day’s opening game from Joshua Stockdale.

Taking the ball down low and rolling through the paint for a layup to (momentarily) halt the Lakewood scoring express, it bodes well for the future.

The same with Cyrus Sparacio drilling the bottom of the net out with a three-ball from the top, then flexing for his fan club, or Riley Lawless swishing a sweet pull-up jumper in the paint while surrounded by defenders.

Young Coupeville players like Liam Lawson and Chayse Van Velkinburgh played with passion, driving the ball again and again into the heart of the storm, even while being smacked by a forest of Lakewood arms.

And shine a light on the Joltin’ Jacobsen brothers, as both Kenneth and Johnathan brought maximum effort to the floor, chasing after rebounds and poking balls away from the Cougar sharpshooters.

From Charles Hart to Hunter Atteberry, from Zach Blitch to Jacobs Meadors and Khanor Jump, the Wolves couldn’t be faulted for their effort, their hustle, and their desire.

The heart is there, and the skill will follow.

Tuesday also saw two more Wolves net their first points of the season, as Nic Laska and Stockdale each banked home a bucket.

That puts 14 Coupeville players in the scoring column two games into an eight-game season.

Games pick back up after the Thanksgiving break, with the Wolves heading to the wilds of Sultan Nov. 29, before hosting King’s Dec. 1.

 

Season scoring stats:

Cyrus Sparacio – 13
Carson Grove – 10
Jayden McManus – 10
Riley Lawless – 6
Chayse Van Velkinburgh – 5
Jacob Barajas – 4
Brantley Campbell – 4
Davin Houston – 3
Sage Arends – 2
Nic Laska – 2
Liam Lawson – 2
Nathan Niewald – 2
Joshua Stockdale – 2
Dylan Robinett – 1

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Davin Houston (right) and Coupeville Middle School basketball kicked off a new season Thursday at Langley. (Alia Houston photo)

The shoes are squeaking on the hardwood once more.

Basketball is back in action, with the Coupeville Middle School boys’ hoops stars first to take the floor in a competitive game.

Facing off with next-door neighbor South Whidbey down in Langley Thursday, the Wolves held their own, coming within a bucket or two of winning two of three.

While the Cougars ultimately swept all three games, it was a strong start for a CMS program featuring a considerable chunk of players who are fairly new to the sport.

The Wolves put 12 players into the scoring column on opening day.

Coupeville returns home for its next three games, hosting Lakewood (Nov. 22), Sultan (Nov. 29), and King’s (Dec. 1) as the eight-game schedule begins to unfold.

How Thursday went down:

 

Level 1:

The day’s most-competitive rumble, as South Whidbey surged, Coupeville rallied, then the Cougars held off the Wolves at the end for a 35-31 win.

A 12-2 run by the hosts stung CMS, as it fell behind 21-9 at the half.

The second half was a different story, however, with Coupeville going on a 13-4 tear in the third quarter before getting all the way back to knot things up at 27-27 midway through the final frame.

South Whidbey closed the game strongly, getting key buckets down the stretch, but the scrappiness shown by the Wolves bodes well for the future.

Jayden McManus banged home 10 points to lead Coupeville, while Carson Grove sank a pair of three-balls en route to an eight-point performance.

Chayse Van Velkinburgh, the lone 6th grader on the varsity, chipped in with five, while Davin Houston (3), Riley Lawless (3), and Sage Arends (2) also scored.

Coupeville’s first unit also featured appearances by Dylan Robinett, Joshua Stockdale, and Nic Laska.

Chayse Van Velkinburgh fires off a free throw. (Dustin Van Velkinburgh photo)

 

Level 2:

A slow start doomed Coupeville, as an 18-1 deficit after one quarter of play morphed into a 39-5 loss.

CMS clamped down on defense after that, limiting its hosts to just four points in the second quarter.

Liam Lawson and Nathan Niewald paced the Wolves, each dropping in a bucket, while Robinett rippled the nets on a free throw.

Wyatt Fitch-Marron, Charles Hart, Hunter Atteberry, and Brantley Campbell also saw floor time for CMS.

 

Level 3:

Take away the second quarter and Coupeville wins this one.

The Wolves held South Whidbey to just four points in every other quarter, but an 8-0 deficit in frame #2 was the difference in a 20-16 loss.

Down 12-2 at the half, CMS rallied to win the second half to a tune of 14-8, with Cyrus Sparacio going off for all of his team-high eight points in the fourth quarter.

Jacob Barajas and Campbell knocked down four points apiece in support, while Johnathan Jacobsen, Zach Blitch, Jacob Meador, Khanor Jump, Kenneth Jacobsen, and Atteberry rounded out the roster.

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Carson Grove slaps home a shot last winter. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Interest in basketball is booming.

With 27 players currently on the roster, Coupeville Middle School plans to play three boys hoops games each time out this season, instead of the original two.

Northshore Christian Academy is the lone Cascade League School which only goes two teams deep, and that matchup is a road one, meaning Wolf fans can brace for long nights when their guys are playing at home.

The season kicks off Thursday, November 17 with a trip to Langley, followed by three straight home clashes against Lakewood, Sultan, and King’s.

Coupeville’s boys, under the guidance of coaches Jon Roberts and Craig Anderson, play an eight-game schedule.

Things wrap up Dec. 14, with the CMS girls taking control of the court in the new year.

The roster as it sits today, six days out from the opening tip:

 

8th grade:

Sage Arends
Zachary Blitch
Charles Hart
Davin Houston
Kenneth Jacobsen
Riley Lawless
Jayden McManus
Mahkai Myles
Dylan Robinett
Joshua Stockdale

 

7th grade:

Jacob Barajas
Wyatt Fitch-Marron
Carson Grove
Johnathan Jacobsen
Khanor Jump
Dillin Kestner
Nicholas Laska
Roger Merino-Martinez
Nathan Niewald
Max Ohme

 

6th grade:

Hunter Atteberry
Brantley Campbell
Jeremiah Crusoe
Liam Lawson
Jacob Meador
Cyrus Sparacio
Chayse Van Velkinburgh

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Capri Anter, seen last season, is off to play high school volleyball next year. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

They played their strongest in the finale.

Toss away the scores, and the Coupeville Middle School spikers peaked perfectly Wednesday in Langley, just the way coaches Cris Matochi and Raven Vick hoped.

“I believe this is by far the best volleyball, but the scores didn’t reflect that today,” Matochi said. “I was pleased that we played good volleyball, not desperate volleyball.”

How the day unfolded:

 

Varsity:

The second clash between next-door neighbors in three days went to the host team, with the Cougars nipping Coupeville 25-23, 26-24, 15-11 in a reversal of Monday’s Wolf win.

The loss drops CMS to 4-4 heading into the awards banquet.

Win or lose, Matochi liked what he saw from the girls on the floor.

“We read the balls, not reacted to the balls, which was great,” he said. “I was excited that the girls who came in, did their roles and played their best.

“This was the first time we ran a full new rotation, learning defense and hitting systems that were not executed before,” Matochi added.

“I think that the biggest opponent that we had today was our own minds, but I’m excited to see how today’s matches will elevate the girls game next year.”

Using a mix of full-time varsity spikers and swing players who got their first taste of the high life in the final week, the Wolves jelled and flourished.

“It was great to see how Willow (Leedy-Bonifas) reset from the JV to play on varsity,” Matochi said.

Haylee (Armstrong’s) serves changed the game. She just chipped and chipped away,” he added. “Rhylin (Price) took a bigger role with serve receive and was a main player in our lineup.

Capri (Anter) being consistent tonight was such a plus. As well as Lexis (Drake) was able to recover quickly and finish on a good note, which is something we love to see.”

Both matches against their archrivals were tense, hard-fought affairs, giving the Wolves a taste of battles to come.

“We walked in the gym knowing it would be a tough match and the girls ended up letting the pressure overcome their skills,” Matochi said. “Though we are both confident that this will make them better next year.

“The coaches would like to thank the players who are moving on to high school next year and we want to celebrate their accomplishments,” he added.

“They built up our team and were a great asset and we are excited to see where they go next year.”

 

JV:

Coupeville’s second squad battled to the end in a 25-23, 25-18, 15-8 loss, leaving its final record at 1-7.

“I’m incredibly impressed with how well we played and had good energy for the most part throughout the whole game,” Raven Vick said.

The former Wolf praised the players who grew as the season progressed.

Olivia (Martin) did well with holding her platform and she was highly successful with that,” Vick said. “This was the best Alyssa (McGee) played this season and she got a few playable balls up.

Izzy (Bowder) worked really hard on passing today, too. Everyone chipped in with serving, but we lacked consistency.”

CMS 6th grader Emma Leavitt opened the match with a six-point run at the service stripe, with her reign of terror only ending when the ref belatedly remembered the five-serve limit in middle school volleyball.

“Tonight, Emma did well with serving and consistently put a run in at the line,” Vick said. “KeeAyra (Brown) did well with passing and had one incredible save where she got it back over the net when no one else thought it was going to happen.

Cheyanne (Atteberry) had a couple of good passes, which helped out the team.”

The serene nature and competitive fire of one Wolf player made a particular impression as the season wrapped.

Willow (Leedy-Bonifas) was a calm fire on the court,” Vick said. “Always encouraging her team while staying her fairly quiet self.

“She has a way of keeping the court humming along without most people in the stands noticing,” she added.

Willow is a quiet leader, and we as coaches are so excited to see how much she stepped up this season.”

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Lexis Drake unleashes an ace. (Photo courtesy Willow Vick)

Welcome to the royal rumble.

Next-door neighbors clashed on the volleyball court Monday, the first of two matches in a three-day span between middle school spikers from Coupeville and South Whidbey.

The Wolves hosted Monday, and travel to Langley Wednesday for the season finale, putting an all-Whidbey spin on the end of the season.

As expected, the CMS gym was jam-packed, the noise was ever-increasing, and the level of play was often inspired.

How the first showdown played out:

 

Varsity:

Big plays down the stretch from Haylee Armstrong, Tenley Stuurmans, and Capri Anter proved to be the difference, with Coupeville coming out on top in a 25-17, 22-25, 15-9 thriller.

The win lifts the Wolves to 4-3 heading into their season finale and earned a roar of approval from coaches Cris Matochi and Raven Vick.

Coupeville was missing a key player, with Adeline Maynes out of town, but the aforementioned trio combined with Rhylin Price and Lexis Drake to stand their ground.

Toss in swing players Emma Leavitt, Kee’Arya Brown, and Willow Leedy-Bonifas, who all came up big while playing with the top squad, and it was a true total team effort.

“We did a really good job of recovering when down,” Matochi said.

“When we focus on getting three touches and playing good, smart volleyball, rather than desperate volleyball, good things happen for us.”

The match was a barnburner from the start, with Coupeville having to fight back from an early deficit.

Key to the rally was players sacrificing themselves, whether it was Anter sliding on her knees to pluck a ball off the court, or Armstrong pulling off a miraculous play on a point CMS should have lost.

Trying to rally from deep on the court, the Wolves banged the ball off the gym ceiling, possibly narrowly missing a wandering bird which spent much of the match flying back and forth in captivity.

The ball was headed to the floor at rocket speed, coming in at an awkward angle, and South Whidbey’s players were already celebrating.

Not a smart move.

Armstrong, busting her butt even to get near the ball, lunged, made contact, and not only hit the orb, but sent it spinning back over her shoulder.

Ball flies very far and clears the net, somehow.

Ball splashes down for a winner, leaving the visitors looking foolish.

Armstrong gets jumped by a madly celebrating pack of teammates, while the look on her face very clearly says “I’ll do it again!”

A miracle in three acts.

But, even with plays like that, the Wolves still trailed at 14-12, with South Whidbey on its serve.

Not a problem, it turns out, as CMS promptly earned a side-out, got strong service runs from Stuurmans, Anter, and Price, and closed the set on a 13-3 tear.

Price was a terror everywhere she bounded, rising up to flick a winner at the net, before closing the set by winning the final five points on her serve.

Her best offering?

A laser which caught the top of the net, flipped over, smacked off a South Whidbey player’s shoulder, and shot off into the stands as her classmates thumped the bleachers in approval.

The visitors may have dropped the first set but proved to be resilient in the middle frame.

South Whidbey jumped to a 10-2 lead, gave it all back as Coupeville rallied to knot things at 16-16, then held on for dear life in the late moments.

Even down 24-20, the Wolves didn’t go quietly, holding off two set points before a CMS serve went a millimeter long at 24-22.

Stuurmans, flying up to high-five the bird in the gym rafters, paused long enough to deliver a tip winner on what might have been the prettiest play of the afternoon.

With the match locked at a set apiece, Cris Matochi pulled his players in close, imparting some of the wisdom he accrued during his own stellar playing career.

Or he simply told them, “Go kick some fanny!”

Either way, it worked.

Stuurmans opened the pared-down set with a five-point run on serve, giving the Wolves a third of the necessary 15 points for a win, and the beat-down was on.

Armstrong came up huge with a pair of winners — one on a flip, one on a ball she crushed right down main street — while Anter walloped a kill which kissed the floor in the far corner before skidding away to freedom.

With the match on the line, though, it was Leavitt and Drake who delivered soul-crushing service aces.

Leavitt drilled back-to-back winners, one ace creasing a rival’s face as it exploded off her arm, while the other dropped suddenly, causing a swing and miss.

Dropping the final punctuation mark, Drake bashed a mile-high serve which arced over the entire South Whidbey defense before crashing back to Earth right on the backline.

“I think this was the best match this season for Lexis,” Raven Vick said. “She had a really good run of serves.”

 

JV:

Coupeville jumped on South Whidbey to claim the first set, but couldn’t quite hold on in a 19-25, 25-11, 15-6 loss.

Strong work at the service line was key to claiming the opening frame.

Leavitt, Brown, Leedy-Bonifas, Cheyanne Atteberry, and Olivia Martin all lashed winners for CMS, with Martin dropping an especially sweet ace on a ball which nipped the net as it went by, then fell off the edge of the world.

South Whidbey, which benefited (today, if not in the future) from having every player launch underhanded moonballs at the service stripe, eventually wore down the more-adventurous Wolves.

Before they did, however, Coupeville got strong work from Myra McDonald, who patrolled the middle of the floor and spun a variety of winners past the South Whidbey defense.

One second, she was flipping a ball low and deadly, the next she was lobbing the rock over her shoulder, artfully delivering her team a point even while looking at the back wall.

The Wolves also got hustle plays from Alyssa McGee and several service winners off of the deadly fingers of Isabella Bowder.

Izzy and Olivia (Martin) have really been working hard on their serves,” Raven Vick said. “And Myra gave us a lot of energy today.

“I’m impressed with all the girls!”

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