Newberg boys aim to contend; girls hope for improvement
With four returning starters and versatility at multiple positions, Newberg boys basketball expects to make significant strides after going 11-14 last season.
The Tigers move from the tough Three Rivers League to the Pacific Conference and have their sights set on a league title.
Coach Mark Brown acknowledged that it won't be easy. He said a good goal for this group would be to finish in the top three in league and get an automatic bid to the postseason.
"I really like this group," he said. "Several of them have been in the program before, so they're familiar with what we like to do. So far I'm really pleased with our progress and I think we are a lot further ahead of where I thought we'd be at this point."
Junior Jack Chlumak returns as Newberg's starting point guard, along with a senior trio of high-scoring wing Alex Jaczko, hulking post Kyle Kruse and sharpshooting guard Caleb Muthiah. Jaczko led the team in scoring last season and was among the state leaders in field goal percentage.
"He's really added to his game," Brown said. "Last year he was a mid-range and low post threat, and now he's able to handle the ball on the perimeter and shoot the three a lot better."
Between Jaczko's scoring, Kruse's presence down low, Muthiah's three-point stroke and Chlumak's ability to run the offense, Brown expects this team to score with consistency.
He added that all four players can stretch the floor and run it on the fast break – and the Tigers definitely want to run.
Newberg's style is built around a rapid pace on offense and a defense that hopes to rank among the best in terms of points allowed. According to Brown, their size will be an asset as well. Chlumak is listed at 6-foot-4, Jaczko at 6-foot-5 and Kruse at 6-foot-6.
"We have multiple guys who can score and knock down the three, and year in and year out we are one of the tougher defensive teams," Brown said. "Given our skill and size, it's within reason to go after a league title."
The Tigers open up their season with a road game at Sheldon on Wednesday (Nov. 28), followed by their home opener against Sunset at 7 p.m. Friday. A home game against Oregon City is also on the docket at 7 p.m. Dec. 4.
The Newberg girls team is hoping to rebound from a 4-20 mark in the 2017-2018 season. According to Coach Luke Lindell, the difficult experiences of last season served as a teacher for the Tigers, who are still a young team in the midst of a rebuild.
"It's going to be a bounce back season for us," Lindell said. "Last year, we definitely struggled in terms of wins and losses, but we played in one of the toughest leagues in the state. That was tough for a young group."
The Tigers escape the gauntlet of the Three Rivers League, but the Pacific Conference will still pose a challenge. Newberg has two seniors – post Allison Killion and wing Jessica Bue – on its roster, along with junior wings Sicily Hampton and Karly Fouche.
Five sophomores and one freshman fill out the rest of the Tigers' roster, including sophomore point guard Lexi Morace, who took on a starting role last season as a freshman. Lindell said Morace's leadership skills have been on display since she joined the program.
Sophomore Ashely Kosmicki played "a lot" for the Tigers last year and is a "quick and athletic guard" to watch for, Lindell said. Fouche leads a group of juniors and is, Lindell said, "fast and athletic in transition."
After enduring a difficult campaign last season, Lindell said he believes this group will respond and take to heart the lessons learned on the court.
"I expect it to be a really competitive group," Lindell said. "They're really coachable, and they've been working for weeks to get ready for the season."
Experience is the best teacher in basketball. The Tigers are hoping another year of it will lead to success down the road, and the season ahead provides an opportunity to keep learning.
"The fact that we're a year older will help," Lindell said. "Experience is experience and those youth mistakes we made last year will be less common. Being a year older and more physically mature will help, too."
Newberg hosts a preseason jamboree on Wednesday (Nov. 28) to prepare for its first game, which will pit the Tigers against Wilson of the Portland Interscholastic League in the first round of the Mountainside Tournament. The Tigers face the Trojans at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Mountainside High in Sherwood.