Vikings expect no less than to compete for a league championship

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Forest Grove senior guard Michael Garcia passes the ball up court during Friday's nonleague game against Lincoln.Forest Grove is coming off a winning season and a state playoff appearance. Program turnout is high — enough for four squads in all. The team finally gets to play on Joe Moran Court in the Basinksi Center.

The Vikings went 14-12 overall last winter — posting the first winning season for the program since 2008 and the second one in more than a decade, coach Greg Evers said — and went 5-9 in Pacific Conference play to finish in fifth place.

After a 61-49 triumph over Canby in a play-in game, Forest Grove went back on the road to take on then-four-time defending state champion Jesuit. The plucky Vikings struck out to a first-half lead before falling 87-50 to the Crusaders.

Considering that all three of the Vikings’ all-league players return this season, it’s easy to see why the program has great expectations this time around.

“We have a bunch of kids that can shoot the basketball, so it looks really good,” Evers said. “We score in bunches and can shoot from a long ways out there. And we’ve got some inside presence, too, so we can go inside and out.”

Evers — who is in his fourth season with the boys program after previously having led the Viking girls to considerable success — calls this team the deepest he has had at the school, and that seven players on this year’s roster are capable of shooting the ball. This team is one that will fly up and down the court and pressure opponents on defense, and 11 of the 13 players on the roster boast at least some varsity experience.

Perhaps preeminent among the returners is Michael Garcia, a 5-foot-6 senior guard who is one of just two returners from last season’s All-Pacific Conference first team, along with McMinnville senior Gage Gubrud.

“Michael is ‘Energizer Bunny,’” Evers said. “He runs forever. He can play a full 32 minutes and play hard. The little guy can shoot from pretty much half court and in with pretty good accuracy. He’s got great range, very quick off the dribble.”

Garcia is moving from point guard to the two-guard spot this winter, Evers said, while Taylor Jensen is taking over point guard duties. The Vikings’ star quarterback on the football field, Jensen was just a freshman a season ago when he impressed the league’s coaches enough to earn honorable mention all-conference honors. Now he is a 6-2 sophomore, one whom Evers expects to be among the league’s better players.

Evers described Jensen as a player who can pass over the top of teams, one with court vision who can shoot, get to the free throw line and drive to his left.

“If we do what we hope we can do and vie for a league title, he and Michael both will have had a pretty good year,” Evers said.

Senior wing/post Zac Collins (6-2) also returns after earning an honorable mention all-conference nod last year.

“He’s Mr. Versatile. He’s going to play anywhere from one to five, position-wise,” Evers said. “We could play him at the point if we need to, but we’ve got two very good point guards, so we don’t necessarily need that. If he gets a rebound, he’s more than welcome to ... bring the ball up the court. He’s a very good passer.”

Other returners include sophomore post Ben Godfrey (6-5), one of three underclassmen Evers expects in his starting lineup, along with Jensen and junior post/wing Angler Emerick (6-2).

Jon Cirlincione (5-10 wing) started a bit last year as a junior. He will come off the bench this time around and will “be our lightning in a bottle. He can score in bunches,” Evers said. “Very strong, very athletic. Can shoot and drive.”

Jalen Hall, a 5-10 senior wing, will also see time off the bench for the Vikings, as will 6-1 wing Dashay Khan.

After going down early, the Vikings began the season with a 69-57 loss at Lincoln on Friday. The team’s nonconference slate was not scheduled to get any easier Tuesday, when Forest Grove was scheduled to host Southridge. (Results not available at press deadline.) The Skyhawks finished fourth in last year’s state tournament.

The Vikings will continue nonleague play through Jan. 7, when they host Westview, and they will kick off Pacific Conference play on Jan. 10 with a road game at Hillsboro.

“We’re hoping to play for a league championship here,” Evers said. “But our league’s going to be tough.”

Banks Braves

The Banks boys basketball team is switching it up this season. And if it all comes together and works out, this Braves squad could be fun to watch.

“We’re really trying to change things and kind of get up and down, change to (an) up-tempo game,” Banks coach Pat Marlia said. “It’s new for the kids. It’s new for us as coaches, so we’re both learning as we go. Our big thing is we want to get shots up quick and on defense we want to really set traps and play good, strong defense and try and get steals and try and really create some turnovers.”

A season ago, the Braves suffered through a 3-19 season and went 0-10 in Cowapa League play. This season’s change in play is being dictated by the personnel Marlia has at his disposal, which includes several members of Banks’ Cowapa League-winning football team from this fall.

“We ... feel that we have football players playing basketball,” Marlia said. “At Banks, we just don’t get that kind of prototypical basketball player. We’ve got a couple kids that put a lot of time in, but really we have athletes that play basketball three or four months a year.”

Senior forward Aaron Streblow (6-foot), who will also see some time in the post, is back for his third year on varsity. He is joined by classmates and fellow captains Garrett Markham (6-2 forward) and Jerod Barger (5-8 point guard), who both starred on the gridiron this fall for the Braves.

“The thing about (Garrett), he’s just athletic,” Marlia said. “He had a great summer this year. He added a nice little ... 12-to-13-foot jumper in the offseason. He worked pretty hard in the spring and he got a lot of shots up, and that showed in the summer.”

Devin King, a 6-0 senior guard, also returns and is a defensive standout who “does a great job just getting tips and steals.”

Yet another senior, 6-2 forward Keaton DeLonge, showed great promise for this winter by contributing 11 points and eight rebounds in the Braves’ 65-49 season-opening loss to Taft last Wednesday.

Some other players who will be stepping into bigger roles this season are juniors Devyn Renne (5-8 guard), Jesus Narvaez (5-7 guard) and Dallin Shurts (6-6 forward).

Marlia described Renne, who scored 17 points against Taft, as a shooter, while Narvaez can also handle the point. The lanky Shurts only came out for basketball last year as a sophomore.

“Every time he steps in the gym, he just gets better,” Marlia said about Shurts, who also participates in cross-country, soccer and track and field for Banks.

Marlia noted that his squad was still getting some players back from absences for the Taft game, and the team rebounded nicely for a 69-54 victory at Molalla on Friday. The Braves lost 49-24 to the Indians in the second game of the season last year.

Banks is at home for three consecutive nonleague games, starting with La Salle this Friday. Then comes a season highlight, a Dec. 27 contest against Estacada at the Moda Center in Portland. The Braves do not begin Cowapa League play until Jan. 21, when they travel to Yamhill-Carlton.

“I think really, for this group, I think we have some athletes. I think right now, what we’re trying to do is get comfortable playing at a higher speed,” Marlia said. “If we can get comfortable at playing a higher speed and limit some turnovers and limit some of those travels that we do from not jump-stopping and stuff like that, I think we can put together a solid season and be competitive every game.”

Gaston Greyhounds

Fantastic. Outstanding. Heartbreaking.

The Gaston boys basketball team’s 2012-13 season was all of that and more — a season that was so successful and yet left the Greyhounds searching for more. Last year the team caught fire, posting separate winning streaks of six and nine games. After going 13-3 in conference play, the Greyhounds also captured the Northwest League’s top playoff seed by knocking off Vernonia and Riverdale in the league playoffs.

And yet, the season prematurely. After Gaston emerged victorious in two league playoff games, it hosted Oakridge in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs with a berth to the state tournament in Pendleton on the line. Unfortunately for the home team, a last-second potential game-winning shot fell short, and the team endured a gut-wrenching 34-33 defeat to the Warriors to conclude the season.

“All the guys coming back and really everybody knows about that,” second-year coach Marc Roche said. “I think our guys are really motivated to do well in our league and get into the playoffs and make a run — and not just be happy about making the playoffs, but win some games and get to Pendleton.”

Gaston does have to deal with the graduation of two all-league players, but 5-foot-11 senior point guard Austin Morey is back, as are brothers Austin Waibel, a 6-3 senior post, and Cole Waibel, a 6-2 junior wing.

The elder Waibel was a second team all-league selection last year, and Roche described him as “our one really true post and a big focal point offensively inside. He’s a good enforcer inside, really being tough with defenders and blocking shots.” Cole Waibel is a returning starter whom Roche described as a versatile player who has improved in the offseason.

Another key team member this season is Saheat Berisha, a 6-0 senior who transferred from Aloha and notched 14 points in the season opener, a 55-53 victory over Kennedy.

Junior Trevor Reynolds (5-10) is a three-point threat, while senior wing Connor Chervin (6-0) and sophomore forward Ian Mann (5-10) also will see playing time this season.

Roche expects for his squad to be defensively minded, tough and physical. But the team does have some weapons on offense.

“I think it’s a good balance offensively of us executing the half court but also trying to run and get easy baskets in transition as much as possible,” Roche noted.

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