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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Sports Preview’

Hawthorne Wolfe, part of a strong group of Coupeville seniors, averaged 21 points a game last season. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

It’s all been building towards this.

Less than six months after coming within a half-game of a league title, a senior-led Coupeville High School boys basketball team is back to chase the big prize again.

Blessed with experience, speed, and shooters who can rain pain down from anywhere, the Wolves want to claim their first crown since the 2001-2002 season, back when current head coach Brad Sherman was still dropping three-balls as a player.

During a pandemic-altered campaign which moved the 2020-2021 season into spring 2021, Coupeville was often electric, pulling off big wins and bringing a palpable air of excitement back to the CHS gym.

The Wolves, who were one of just two Northwest 2B/1B League schools to play a “full” 12-game set, finished 8-4, a half-game back of league champ Mount Vernon Christian (8-3), and percentage points off of Friday Harbor (7-3).

CHS toppled MVC both times they played, but dropped not one, but two, one-point games to Friday Harbor.

Now, while some pandemic restrictions and Covid testing remain in place, the Wolves are looking forward to a full 20-game schedule, including non-conference tilts with Island rivals Oak Harbor and South Whidbey.

As it aims for league supremacy, and potential postseason success, Coupeville’s mission is simple.

“Play good fundamental basketball,” Sherman said. “Commit on the defensive end of the floor. Win the rebounding battle every night.

“Play basketball our way, and have some fun!”

Sherman and assistant coaches Hunter Smith, Greg White, and Randy Bottorff are focused on making the 105th season of CHS basketball one of its most successful.

“If we do those things, I think we are well positioned at the end of our regular season to keep moving forward,” Sherman said.

“Should be a fun year and we are all — coaches and players — really excited to be back in the gym working!”

Leading the way for the Wolves is four-year starter Hawthorne Wolfe, who enters his senior season with 664 points, putting him 24th (and rapidly climbing) on the all-time CHS boys scoring list.

Fellow seniors Xavier Murdy, Grady Rickner, and Logan Martin are back as well, and a blast from the past has rejoined Wolf Nation.

Caleb Meyer, who played in Coupeville through 8th grade, returns to the town where his grandparents once paid me to watch movies for 12 years at Videoville.

With the curly-haired one back in the fold in time to hit the boards and graduate with his Class of 2022 mates, consider this the Wolves version of The Last Dance.

Caleb has been an awesome addition to the team,” Sherman said. “Not only as a really talented basketball player, but also as a really strong leader on the floor.”

Caleb Meyer, back where he belongs.

Meyer rejoins gym rat Wolfe, who “can really stretch a defense with his (shooting) range,” and last season’s team MVP, Xavier Murdy, who paced CHS in numerous stat categories.

Toss in Rickner — “a versatile player who does a lot for us on defense, and gives us another long guard on offense who finishes well at the rack” — and the ever-dependable Martin, and the core is super-solid.

Logan really committed in the weight room this past off-season,” Sherman said about a hard-working athlete who recently signed to compete in track and field for Central Washington University.

“He gives us a great mid-range jumper and strong presence inside.”

Coupeville’s strong batch of seniors is joined by a battle-hardened group of underclassmen all capable of making an impact.

Juniors Alex Murdy, Jonathan Valenzuela, and Dominic Coffman, and sophomores Logan Downes and Cole White can all come out firing.

The younger Murdy was Coupeville’s top defensive player last season, while delivering a moment for the ages when he netted a pair of late-game free throws to ice a 66-65 home win over MVC.

Alex Murdy was electric on both ends of the floor last season.

Downes showed a smooth shooting touch in crunch time as a mere frosh, earning major floor time right out of the gate.

Logan grew into a big role for us last year and will pick up where he left off,” Sherman said. “He’s a strong athlete, works hard, and can do a lot of different things for us offensively and defensively.

“Been really impressed with him these first two weeks of practice.”

Valenzuela and White swung between varsity and JV last season, while Coffman, coming off of a breakout season on the gridiron, makes his varsity hoops debut.

All in all, it makes for a deep roster filled with high-energy players capable of attacking on both ends of the floor.

“We are quick and athletic at the guard spot, have a few great shooters, and guys who attack the basket really well,” Sherman said. “We just need to be patient, take care of the basketball, and offensively I think we can be tough.”

With a full season ahead of them, the Wolves, who open Wednesday at home against 3A Oak Harbor, are in this for the long haul.

“We want to keep improving in every area as the season progresses,” Sherman said. “I think great teams really embrace that idea of excellence being a process.

“We want to just focus on getting better every week so that we are prepared to finish this thing in a really strong position.”

Five of the seven NWL boys hoops teams had a winning record in the spring, and the two who didn’t — Darrington and Concrete — still came hard every night.

For this Coupeville squad to join the 2001-2002 team in earning a league title plaque on the school’s Wall of Fame, it will come down to accepting every challenge, and overlooking no one.

“Certainly we had some really tight battles last season – and I know our boys are ready to get back out there with those teams,” Sherman said.

“But again I think our focus has to be on showing up prepared, and practicing hard for every single league team we face.”

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Senior Izzy Wells leads a strong group of returning players for the CHS girls basketball program. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Megan Smith is more than a little fired-up.

The #4 scorer in Coupeville High School girls basketball history makes her debut as the Wolf varsity coach this coming Wednesday, and the hardwood legend is rarin’ to go.

“I don’t know if you can tell … but I am beyond excited for this season,” Smith said with a huge smile. “As a first-year head coach, I could not have asked for a better bunch of girls.

“We are going to be a force to be reckoned with this year!”

Megan Smith, who torched the CHS gym nets between 2006-2010, now sits in the same chair her dad, Willie Smith, once owned during his own run as head coach of the Wolf girls hoops program.

After coaching the Coupeville JV the past two seasons, Megan Smith replaces Scott Fox, who stepped down to focus on his health.

With no seniors playing during last year’s pandemic-altered hoops campaign, the new coach inherits a roster of veterans – a team where even the youngsters already have varsity experience.

“We have everyone returning from last year, since we did not lose any seniors, and that’s going to be huge for us!,” Smith said.

With her players already knowing each other, and having worked together on the floor in games, the Wolves are already a well-oiled unit.

“Our biggest strength of this team is the chemistry they have with each other,” Smith said. “This is year two of playing together and not losing anyone.

“They have really meshed well; you can absolutely see it on the court during practice,” she added. “They are so positive and encouraging to each other, all while pushing themselves and others to get better every day.

“I have watched their confidence in each other and themselves grow every day, and that’s such a huge aspect of being a great team!”

Senior Audrianna Shaw, who led the Wolves in scoring during a shortened 12-game season last time out, and junior point guard Maddie Georges lead the returning players.

Joining them to form the core of the team are seniors Ja’Kenya Hoskins, Izzy Wells, and Abby Mulholland, and juniors Carolyn Lhamon, Nezi Keiper, and Gwen Gustafson.

Maddie and Audri are going to be two big players for us, both as leaders and scorers,” Smith said. “They have really come into this season ready to roll.

Izzy and Carolyn have really taken over and will be big for us when it comes to rebounding and being a threat down low.”

Post players Keiper and Mulholland both return after not playing last year, helping add crucial depth to the squad.

Abby, Ja’Kenya, Nezi, and Gwen will all see good minutes this year too, and will be able to help keep the intensity of our game up,” Smith said. “I’m really excited for this team!”

Another bright spot is offered up by an especially-strong class of freshmen, with three 9th graders expected to earn varsity playing time.

Katie Marti will swing between varsity and JV, while Lyla Stuurmans and Savina Wells are actually back for year two of what could be a five-year run of high school varsity excellence.

Savina Wells was a starter as an 8th grader, and is back for more this season.

The younger Wells sister was the #2 scorer for Coupeville as an 8th grader, while showing a willingness to mix it up with older players down low.

Meanwhile, the ever-springy Stuurmans was a standout on defense, constantly disrupting other team’s attempts to advance the ball with quick hands and a nicely feisty attitude.

“Both Savina and Lyla have improved greatly, with such a huge eagerness to learn and get better,” Smith said. “Savina is going to be a threat that teams will have to respect both outside and inside the key.

Lyla is a natural leader, and will be able to add a lot of hustle and control on the court.

Katie kind of came out of nowhere. She brings a different, lighter kind of energy to the game, eager to learn, and will be a big player for this program.”

As always, the seven-team Northwest 2B/1B League presents some major obstacles, with every opponent dangerous on a given night.

La Conner, which carries over several players from its state championship-winning volleyball squad, is the favorite, while Mount Vernon Christian is always strong.

“Both teams will be a challenge, but I think we are up for it!,” Smith said. “Our goal for this season is to be competitors in every game, no matter who they are.

“Our schedule contains some tough teams, but we know that we have the team to keep up with them all,” she added. “We want to play our game and come out on top.”

With that in mind, Smith and new Wolf JV coach Greg Turcott have been preaching confidence and commitment.

“We have been working a lot at being scorers first, being less worried about making a mistake, and just playing the game we play in practice,” Smith said.

“We talk a lot about how you play in games like you practice and have been keeping the tempo of our practices intense and fast.”

For now, three days out from opening night and a non-conference matchup with Granite Falls, the Wolves are just ready to get after it. To get out on the floor and see what they can accomplish.

“I think our biggest area needing work is just our experience,” Smith said. “Even though our chemistry is great, we are pretty young when it comes to varsity playing experience.

“The more we play, the better we will get and I can’t wait to see where we end up!”

Senior Ja’Kenya Hoskins wants to go out with a bang.

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Wolf junior Logan Martin is a threat inside and outside. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Brad Sherman has been waiting for this day for 15 months.

When he stepped off the court after a season-ending playoff loss to Mount Baker way back on February 8, 2020, the Coupeville High School varsity boys basketball coach, like all those around him, had no idea what was just around the bend.

But now, after many twists and turns, he and his new team will take the court Tuesday in Mount Vernon, ready to kick off a pandemic-altered hoops season.

The Wolves are scheduled to play 12 games, instead of the normal 18-20, and will do so wearing masks.

After months of basketball being in limbo during the Age of Coronavirus, they’ll take what they can get.

“First off, I’m just extremely grateful that these boys are getting the season they’ve waited and worked for,” Sherman said. “Seeing them together as a team in our gym this past week has been the highlight of this school year.

“Just an awesome group to have the privilege of coaching.”

Much is different this time around, with Sherman’s coaching staff having added two of his fellow former CHS hoops legends in Hunter Smith and Greg White.

The younger Smith replaces his dad Chris, who stepped down as JV coach.

Rounding out the Wolf brain trust is longtime local hoops guru Randy Bottorff, who once coached Sherman when the current CHS head man was first starting off as a player.

The Wolf four-pack of coaches head up a program making its return to the 2B classification and the Northwest 2B/1B League after many years of matching up with 1A and 2A schools in various far-flung outposts.

“Feels like the right fit,” Sherman said. “These are other small schools from rural areas.

“They build their programs from the ground up. They do it like we do it,” he added. “I’m excited to be back where I truly think we belong.”

As he and the Wolves get a feel for new/old foes La Conner, Darrington, Friday Harbor, Orcas Island, Mount Vernon Christian, and Concrete, Sherman is prepared for a battle every night.

“This has traditionally been a very competitive basketball league,” he said. “Not prepared to take any team for granted.”

The players on the floor will be a new mix, as well, with nine of the 12 guys who scored during the 2019-2020 season graduating afterwards.

That doesn’t mean the Wolves will be without firepower, however.

Juniors Hawthorne Wolfe and Xavier Murdy lead the new-look squad, and both have excelled in their time in a CHS uniform.

Wolfe led Coupeville in scoring as a freshman, and was a bucket away from doing so again as a sophomore during a season in which he twice topped 30 points in a game.

With 410 career points — the most compiled by any CHS boy through their sophomore season — he sits at #55 on the school’s career scoring chart, which dates back to 1917.

Murdy, who came out all guns blazing after a late start to his sophomore campaign, is #186 on the all-time scoring list with 99 points.

Xavier Murdy can bring the heat offensively and defensively.

Xavier gave us a big boost at the guard spot when he came back from injury last season,” Sherman said. “He can do a lot for us out on the court – offensively as a scorer and ball handler, and defensively he’s going to be really tough.

Hawthorne is a returning starter for us who continues to work hard at his game. He’s a guy that’s just going to be really tough to defend on the perimeter with his skillset.”

Two other Wolves offer some experience, with senior Daniel Olson having popped for five varsity points prior to this year, while junior Grady Rickner made his varsity debut in that playoff finale with Mount Baker.

Other Wolves making the jump from JV include seniors TJ Rickner and Sage Downes, juniors Logan Martin, Cody Roberts, and Miles Davidson, and sophomore Alex Murdy.

Wolf seniors (l to r) TJ Rickner, Sage Downes, and Daniel Olson.

Freshman Logan Downes follows Wolfe’s trail in making varsity from day one, while fellow frosh Cole White and sophomore Jonathan Valenzuela are projected as swing players.

“We have a lot of guys making the jump this year; certainly could say positive things about each of them and what they bring to the table,” Sherman said.

It’s a team in transition, one whose strengths will be found in the heat of on-court action.

“Having not played a game in 15 months – and with a very different group on the floor than we had last season, I think that’s something we’re still evaluating,” Sherman said.

“Our backcourt should be really strong, and if we commit to team basketball I think we could be really tough offensively.

“Our ability to get to the rim and take guys off the dribble is something that I think could give teams a hard time.”

While no one would have chosen the pandemic life, it has hopefully helped mold the young Wolves into tougher players.

“I think the grit and resilience of this group is going to be something that serves us well down the stretch,” Sherman said. “The way they stuck with it this off-season, through setback after setback, gives me a lot of confidence in their ability to handle adversity.”

No matter how many games are on the schedule, or when and how they’ll be played, Coupeville’s coach is approaching the new season much as he has his previous ones on the bench.

“No different than any other season. While ultimately we are just extremely grateful for the chance to play, the approach and mindset doesn’t change,” Sherman said. “We don’t want to treat this as an “unusual” season.

“It’s a season, and we plan to prepare, compete, and work our tails off to try and go win basketball games,” he added. “We want to make a strong statement as we enter the new league and this year is an opportunity to do that.”

To do so, the Wolves need to be prepared every time out, and be willing to stretch themselves to meet all challenges.

“An honest commitment to all of the little things that make a complete basketball team (is important),” Sherman said. “We need to take pride in our defensive effort every time we touch the floor.

“We need to be tough, aggressive, and able to trust that every one of our teammates is in a good position behind us.”

The CHS coaches came away from early practices pleased with their player’s effort and commitment. Now, the key is to translate that to in-game success.

“We saw some really good things this first week and I’m proud of the way the guys are starting to come together defensively,” Sherman said.

“On the boards, we cannot win games if we don’t commit to being the better rebounding team on the court every night.

“Short season or not, we just ask for an attitude of excellence in all the little things – a mindset of getting a little bit better every single day.”

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After missing her sophomore season with a busted ankle, Ja’Kenya Hoskins is ready to rumble. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

It’s a whole new ballgame.

As Coupeville High School girls basketball players and coaches prep for a new season, much is different.

The Wolves are in a new classification, with the school’s student body count moving them from 1A to 2B.

With that comes a move from the 1A North Sound Conference, lorded over by state power King’s, to the much-more competitive Northwest 2B/1B League.

Then, there’s the whole ongoing pandemic thing, which moved the season from winter out to spring, with a compressed 12-game schedule set to run from May 18-June 17.

On the floor, second-year Wolf head coach Scott Fox has a roster in flux, with some unexpected losses, but also some positive gains.

The return from injury of junior forward Ja’Kenya Hoskins, who broke her ankle playing dodgeball right before her sophomore campaign, is the big headline.

She’ll be joined by fellow juniors Izzy Wells, Audrianna Shaw, Anya Leavell, and Kylie Van Velkinburgh, as well as sophomores Maddie Georges and Carolyn Lhamon, all returnees from a varsity team which went 12-7 during the 2019-2020 season.

Maddie Georges slices through the defense.

Georges, a speedy point guard who tallied 86 points as a freshman, is the leading active scorer for the Wolves, as senior Chelsea Prescott opted not to play this season.

Prescott, who sits at #44 on the CHS girls career scoring chart with 249 points, is one of three varsity players who didn’t return, along with senior Mollie Bailey and sophomore Nezi Keiper.

That leaves opportunity for JV players to move up, though one who likely would have, tough-as-nails guard Alita Blouin, will miss the season with a back injury.

With player numbers down, a new wrinkle comes into play, as 2B schools can use 8th graders to help fill out its varsity and/or JV rosters.

However his lineup works out, Fox is ready for the challenge.

“We are young and don’t have the size or senior experience we had last year, but they were playing well together in the summer and fall before Covid shut us down,” he said.

“It does feel strange to be playing in May/June and with masks on,” Fox added. “We are going to compete in every game, but we have some talented schools in this league that make regular trips to the state tournament.

“Our goal is to be one of those teams, and I don’t think we are too far off.”

While all six of their league foes will bring a strong effort each time out, two stand out in particular.

“La Conner is really good!,” Fox said. “Scott Novak does a great job over there, and they have been to the (2B) state championship game a few times.

“Not far behind is Mount Vernon Christian, which is also talented and plays extremely hard,” he added. “They also make frequent state tournament runs at the 1B level.”

Getting away from private schools which often exist as “destination schools” for athletes who live in other areas is a plus for the small-town public school Wolves.

“I’m looking forward to the new league because it puts us on par with schools our size, but is still really competitive,” Fox said.

“Travel is always an issue when you’re going to Darrington, Concrete, Orcas, and Friday Harbor, but all schools in this league have to travel long distances, so it’s an equalizer.”

While Coupeville doesn’t have a lot of tall towers to clog up the middle, it does have girls who can play multiple positions, and have shown a desire to always be competitive.

Carolyn Lhamon stays calm under pressure.

“The strength of our team is our athleticism,” Fox said. “We have some real athletes out there that I want to run the court with while playing aggressive defense.

“I’d like to press more this year, but with the kids having to wear mandatory face masks, we need to be cognizant how much to push this style of play.”

With the pandemic-altered campaign sort of like an extended summer season, the young Wolves will continue to work on the small things, which can have a big payoff down the road.

“Our backbone is our defense, and I would like to improve on our transition offense from steals or missed shots,” Fox said. “We drill on this often in practice, and so far I like what I see.

“We’re looking to improve as a team, be competitive in every game, and have fun playing basketball again!”

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Coupeville senior Jered Brown has been a four-year varsity player. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Fellow senior Sean Toomey-Stout was in the top two in nearly every stat category a season ago.

They have the numbers. They have the experience. They have the talent.

As Brad Sherman enters his third season at the helm of the Coupeville High School boys basketball program, the Wolves are primed to make a big surge.

CHS, which kicks off a new season with back-to-back road trips to Darrington and Oak Harbor Dec. 3-4, boasts 33 players divided equally between three squads.

Sherman will be joined by returning JV coach Chris Smith, while the C-Team needs to replace Scott Fox, who has taken over the Wolf girls varsity program.

Coupeville’s first-string boys squad is virtually the same one which took the court a year ago, as the Wolves lost just sixth man Dane Lucero to graduation.

Hawthorne Wolfe tossed in a team-high 158 points last season, the most scored by a Wolf freshman boy across 102 seasons, but he’s not the only guy capable of filling up the hoop.

The next eight players on the scoring list, led off by Sean Toomey-Stout (122) and Mason Grove (109), were juniors last season, giving CHS a senior-heavy roster this time around.

Ulrik Wells (74), Jered Brown (71), Gavin Knoblich (65), Jacobi Pilgrim (43), Koa Davison (11), and Jean Lund-Olsen (7) are also back, while sophomore Xavier Murdy (4) is a full-time varsity player in his second season.

Rounding out the roster is one newcomer, with senior Tucker Hall making the jump from JV to varsity.

“Depth and experience are going to be big for us,” Sherman said. “This group has shown they are willing to work hard.

“With so many returners, they are getting more comfortable playing together and that’s huge,” he added. “I think we have the opportunity to be strong on both sides of the ball.”

While the Wolves kick off the second week of practice Monday, many of their players have been working on their games year-round. A strong showing at team camp is also cause for happiness.

“Our guys showed a lot of growth over the summer, especially in our transition game and showing a lot more poise on offense,” Sherman said.

“Between our summer practice schedule, the tournament win on the coast, and battling with some big schools in Cheney at camp, we were really proud of the body of work our guys put together in June to carry us toward the season.”

As he mixes and matches players, looking for the best combinations, Sherman wants to see those groups gel.

“We are seeing a lot of good things from a lot of guys right now, and really just stressing the importance of each and every role working together,” he said. “Several of our guys have quite a bit of versatility to play in different spots, which gives us a lot of flexibility with our lineups and sets.

“Trust, on and off the court (is big),” Sherman added. “We have to have five guys on the floor working together, thinking together, trusting one another to do their jobs in every aspect of the game.

“That is a big point of emphasis for us.”

As they work towards the start of the season, the Wolves are hard at work fine-tuning their games on both sides of the ball. Keeping the pressure ramped up on opposing teams is big.

“We know we need to take care of the ball better and finish at the rim,” Sherman said. “Unforced turnovers hurt us last year – and while we aren’t spending any time looking in the rear-view mirror, we do need to learn and improve on some of those key things.

“Defensively we need to just make sure we are playing four quarters of all-in defense with five guys moving hard to position on every single pass,” he added.

“We are really emphasizing closeouts, on-ball pressure, and improved communication on the defensive end.”

Coupeville has a 19-game regular-season schedule, with the final nine tilts all against fellow North Sound Conference teams.

King’s, which finished 3rd at state last year, offered league rivals a chance to play just once, and not twice, and the Wolves, along with Granite Falls and Sultan accepted.

South Whidbey and Cedar Park Christian did not, making for a lopsided league schedule.

For his part, Sherman is not super-concerned with any one team on the schedule, viewing each game as an important building block for his program.

“Really not focused on one particular team,” he said. “Our preparation as coaches and athletes has to be the same for every team we face.

“This is a tough league, and we just need to take it one game at a time.

“As a coaching staff we have full confidence in our guys ability to compete night in and night out,” Sherman added. “We certainly scout and game plan for each team we face, but ultimately it’s our ability to go out and play good team basketball and execute our own stuff that really matters.”

This will also be the Wolves final rumble against this set of conference foes, as Coupeville drops from 1A to 2B with the 2020-2021 school year.

“We part ways with this league next season, so one of our goals is to go out strong and make a statement at every level of our program,” Sherman said.

“Our ultimate hope would obviously be to earn a postseason opportunity in February, but for now, it’s just one game at a time.”

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