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The 10-2 Lions know the Northwest League battle will be tough, but the chemistry and leadership is there for a run.

PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Mannahouse Christian Academy's Devin Johnson (11) goes in for a layup against Gaston on Jan. 6, 2021 at Gaston High School. Like it often is, the Class 2A Northwest League is shaping up to be quite the battle for the top spots and the state tournament bids that come with them.

However, a new contender emerged in 2020, and it's still sticking around in the Mannahouse Christian Academy boys basketball squad.

The Lions are 10-2 overall this season and have already jumped out to a 4-0 record in league with wins over Vernonia, Nestucca, Portland Christian and Gaston.

In 2020, the Lions pulled off an upset of Columbia Christian during the Northwest District tournament to steal a bid and make the state tournament before falling to Western Christian in the first round, the eventual 2A runners-up.

In 2021-22, what's guiding the Lions under third-year coach Ryan Bjornsgard is the group's chemistry despite a mix-match of classes in the lineup.

"We're relatively young and inexperienced, it's a mix of a few returners and young and new guys," Bjornsgard said. "We've had six or seven different starting lineups and six different leading scorers in our first 12 games. We never have to really rely on any one or two people.

"What I think has really been key, I think it's important every year, is the chemistry. We have great chemistry just as a team and that's really huge in any sport."

Mannahouse, formerly known as City Christian, is in its third year with the new name and is looking to establish its basketball program like it did when the Lions won the Class 1A state title in 2013.PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Mannahouse Christian Academy's Chisom Okafor, center, takes a jump shot against Gaston on Jan. 6, 2021, at Gaston High School.

Following that title win, some losing seasons have plagued the program. Bjornsgard was the fifth coach in five years when he started in 2019. But a new wave of players under Bjornsgard is helping him change the culture of the program, something the third-year coach thinks takes about three years.

Leading the charge is three-year varsity starter Devin Johnson, a 6-foot point guard for the Lions.

"(Johnson's) a great leader, he passes the ball well, he's the quarterback of our team," Bjornsgard said. "He's like having another coach on the floor. He's really having a great year so far this year and he really makes us go."

The two losses for the Lions this season have come at the hands of a couple solid 1A schools in Crosshill Christian (currently No. 5 in 1A) and Country Christian.

Bjornsgard doesn't see the loss to Country Christian as a real big negative, though, as he knows complacency can come with winning. And that loss might be what his squad needed heading into league play.

"We had 22 turnovers, eight missed free throws, hadn't practice much," Bjornsgard said of the loss. "I really feel like that loss is really going to be a positive for us moving forward. I think we've really refocused since that loss."

The main portion of the league slate is up next for the Lions and will feature two matchups with current No. 2-ranked Knappa, which is 8-1 and took out another league contender in Faith Bible recently, 77-29.

Columbia Christian also started the year ranked and sits at 5-4 following a tough nonleague slate and will look to be one of the top two along with Mannahouse, Faith Bible and Knappa.

Bjornsgard said the district tournament will have a new ladder format this season with the fifth and fourth place teams playing each other, and the winner moving up the ladder to eventually play the No. 1 team.PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Mannahouse Christian Academy's Austin Snyder, left, and Chisom Okafor, right, lock up Gaston's Sam Fillinger on defense Jan. 6, 2021, at Gaston High School.

Bjornsgard knows a league title is a tall hill to climb — literally since Knappa boasts six players listed above 6-foot while the Lions have one — but if 2020 taught Mannahouse anything, it's that playing your best basketball in February and March is what matters most.

"It'd be great to have another run like we did two years ago, our league in the top half is really tough … you can't take any nights off or any plays off," Bjornsgard said. "It's going to be a fight to get into that top five."

Other highlights

Damascus Christian girls hoops makes another statement

There really isn't much of an argument left to not rank 10-1 Damascus Christian girls basketball No. 1 after this past week.

The Eagles started it Monday, Jan. 3, by knocking off Class 2A top 10 team Colton 44-35 and then followed that up Friday with a road win over 1A No. 1 Country Christian 44-41.

The Eagles also have a 54-53 win over Crane, who was ranked No. 2 in 1A ahead of the Eagles at No. 3 in the girls basketball poll last week.

There's plenty of Valley 10 league play left, plus a Feb. 1 rematch with Country Christian, but the Eagles have certainly established themselves as contenders for the 1A crown, if not the leading candidate.

Top-ranked battle in Class 3A boys

The No. 1 and No. 2 ranked boys basketball teams in Class 3A met last week for the first time this season in Westside Christian (No. 1) and De La Salle North Catholic (No. 2). The Eagles were able to escape on the road 57-51 to hand the Knights their first loss of the season.

De La Salle was led in scoring by TJ Latu with 19 points, according to the OSAA. Westside trailed 31-28 at the half but took the lead into the fourth despite an injury to its top player, Landon Thom, in the first half.

The Lewis and Clark League foes will meet again later this month on Jan. 22 in a matchup that could end up deciding who walks away with the league crown.

Editor's note: 2022 is here and with it comes a new weekly piece from the Portland Tribune. The Small School Roundup will detail a local story from a preps team in the 4A-1A classification, as well as provide a few highlights from the past week on other teams making noise. If you have any story ideas or notes to add to the roundup, email Austin White at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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