Banks ushers in a new era of Braves basketball
Last year was great. A league title, state championship and the icing on what had been a 12-month crap-cake left in the wake of a near miss the year prior. But gone are seven seniors, including the 4A State Player of the Year, Blake Gobel, and in their place are a fresh-faced group of Braves head coach Marc Roche hopes are up to what will be a different type of challenge in 2019-20.
"Our personnel will be very different this year, with seven graduating seniors, four of which were starters," Roche said. "So we have a lot of new faces filling in some big shoes from last year."
Indeed. No Gobel. No guards, honorable mention all-stater Dakota Bunn, Hayden Vandehey and Bret Cameron. No forward Blake Markham, and some of the size that made them effective defensively in reserve Ryan Hiestand. So as a result, Roche said they'll have to do things a bit differently this year if they hope to compete in an always tough Cowapa League.
"I think our style of play will be somewhat similar to last year, but losing some incredible defensive players and the dynamic play of Gobel, we will need to find different ways to attack," Roche said. "I think we will be a very good perimeter shooting team and I'm hoping to utilize that to spread the floor out."
It's not all lost for the Braves — after all, they do return all-league and honorable mention all-state wing Jacob Slifka, along with a valuable "sixth man," guard Jarred Evans, who Roche said will be "stepping into a major role with this team," based primarily on his playmaking ability and outside shooting skill set.
Also returning is a powerful inside presence in junior Tyler Exline — who'll miss the first portion of the year recovering from a football injury — and junior point guard Joe Buliga, who Roche will be expecting a lot from in the absence of his departed guards.
"He's coming in with a lot of upside with his ability to attack and score and really disrupt defensively," said the coach.
Roche also mentioned sophomore guard Cooper Gobel and junior Jackson Walker as players he's counting on to provide depth and energy on both ends.
"Those guys, along with a few more 'newbies,' could really help us with added experience this year."
The coach said he expects perennial power Seaside to again be formidable this season, along with Valley Catholic, who returns a few key players from last year's state playoff team. But he also noted the league lost a number of talented seniors to graduation, and with a couple new coaches (Tillamook and Valley) in the mix, they could see some different styles.
The Braves played twice last week as part of the Beau Classic Tourney at Western Mennonite in Salem, and dropped both. But there's no panic in Roche — a significant portion of his team just started practicing this past week due to Banks' football season ending Nov. 30, and he understands that with so many new roles to fill and very little time to do so, it will be a work in progress over the team's first month.
"We have a lot to work on," Roche said. "But I believe when we get healthy and get some practices under our belt we have a good shot to compete for a league title again, and hope to return to the final eight site in Forest Grove. I really think the state is wide open this year at the 4A level."
Banks' girls team, too, is starting relatively anew after losing two-time Oregon 4A State Player of the Year Aspen Slifka to graduation last spring.
Slifka has been a staple in the program for the prior four years and without the dynamic 6-foot guard, it will be a different Braves team this season.
"We're going to be a much different-looking team this year with all that we lost," Banks head coach Brandon Begley said. "We're going to be searching for our identity early in the season and figuring out who is going to step into the many roles we need filled."
Begley said they expect to do things similarly to how they have in the past, but admitted that as things begin to round into shape and impact players start to emerge, they may tweak things in an effort to play to the strengths of emerging players.
Banks returns just one starter from last year's team that lost in last season's state quarterfinals, sophomore guard Maggie Streblow. But the coach feels that while in years past they leaned on star players like Slifka, this year's team will rely on a number of capable playmakers as things progress.
"We are going to have a lot of players step into bigger roles," Begley said. "Not to sound vague, but when you lose four starters and your top reserve, there are going to be a lot of opportunities for girls, and we have a lot of girls that are ready for that opportunity."
The coach feels that by year's end, their strength will be in their depth, but until that time comes, their primary weakness will be the inexperience of a relatively untested squad. In addition to Slifka, standout post Gracie Nelson is gone, as are seniors Kaylin Hernandez, Sara Toledo and Rylie Kind, leaving Banks with returning contributors Mary Merritt, Halle VanDomelen, Maddy Shook and Betta Minervini.
Astoria is the heavy favorite in the Cowapa League to start the season, while Valley Catholic and Seaside are expected to be vastly improved.
And where do the Braves fit in?
"We know there are going to be some ups and downs along the way, but our expectations for this group will be to continue to live up to the standards that this program has," Begley said. "We're excited to see what this group of girls can do as their confidence grows and they get some game experience."
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