Boys basketball: Woodburn continues to excel
As the Woodburn boys basketball team keeps racking up victories, it's all the Bulldogs can do to keep up with their league rivals in the Oregon West Conference.
Though league play will not begin until 2019, it is beginning to look like the Oregon West will be a knockdown, drag-out fight each and every night. Through the first month of the season, all seven members of the conference boast winning records, with No. 6 Woodburn one of four teams currently ranked inside the top 10 of the OSAA rankings.
"I'm definitely not surprised," Woodburn head coach Raul Veliz said. "I knew about the teams back in August, and you knew a lot of those teams are going to be really competitive, and it's kind of on our players to rise to that level and really compete."
Woodburn claimed an 84-34 victory over the Molalla Indians Thursday in the opening game of the Abby's Pizza Holiday Classic at North Marion High School. Senior guard R.J. Veliz led the team with 24 points, while senior forward Tyson Doman added 13 in the victory to help the Bulldogs improve to 6-0 on the season, the program's best start to the season in more than a decade.
"We definitely are pleased," Raul Veliz said. "We're pretty happy with where we're at, but there's a lot of things that we still need to keep working on overall."
Yet Woodburn ranks just third in the conference wins column, tied with Cascade (6-1) and Newport (6-2) and behind No. 2 Stayton (7-1) and No. 5 Sweet Home (10-1). Add in No. 7 Philomath (5-2) and a Sisters team that is in last place despite a 5-3 record, and the Oregon West has thus far proved to be the deepest team in the 4A Classification this season.
"It's really cool to see that our conference is going to be one of the top at our level, and hopefully that means good things for everybody," Veliz said.
If the Oregon West teams continued to win out over the final few games of the non-conference schedule, it will go a long way toward improving the overall ranking of teams that emerge from the fray to represent the league in the state playoffs.
Although Woodburn has been to the post-season in each of the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have lost each time in the play-in round and have yet to win a playoff game or qualify for the first round of the state playoffs since the 2011 season, when the team advanced to the 5A double-elimination quarterfinal tournament.
Veliz and the Bulldogs expect to end that playoff drought this season, but they know it will take time and effort across the board. Woodburn is still working out the kinks of the program's new coaching staff and its incoming transfers.
"I think a lot of guys are still trying to find how we all fit together with a new system and new players. It's still kind of been a work in progress, and we're hoping that we're going to find that glue in the next week or two," Veliz said.
Woodburn was scheduled to play Valley Catholic (6-2) on Friday and the hosting No. 3 North Marion Huskies on Saturday in a rematch of the season opener between the two teams that the Bulldogs won by 19 points.
Along with a trip to the Stayton Holiday Tournament this week to round out the 2018 schedule, and the Bulldogs are looking to head into 2019 with a strong body of work to show for their first month of play.
Once our team really starts to gel and our players wrap their basketball skills around what they're doing, I think we're going to have a chance to make a move and make some noise in that," Veliz said.
From there, Woodburn will kick off its conference schedule against the league-leading Sweet Home Huskies on Jan. 4, followed by its final non-conference game against the Corbett Cardinals (5-3) on Jan. 8. After that, the rest of the road is paved with Oregon West opponents, and Veliz is expecting his team to finish at or near the top of the standings when it's all said and done.
"Having a chance to finish within the top two in our league or a league title is always a goal, and hopefully getting into the playoffs," Veliz said. "Once we get there, the season starts over and we take it one game at a time. With the group that we have in terms of the basketball talent and IQ, if we get to those playoffs, we have a chance to compete with some of the best teams in the state."
Woodburn boys basketball
The Woodburn boys basketball team and the Oregon West Conference represent four of the top 10 teams in the OSAA's 4A rankings through the first month of the 2018-19 season.
No. 1 Banks (6-1) — CowapaNo. 2 Stayton (7-1) — Oregon WestNo. 3 Seaside (4-2) — CowapaNo. 4 North Marion (3-3) — Tri-Valley
No. 5 Sweet Home (10-1) — Oregon WestNo. 6 Woodburn (6-0) — Oregon WestNo. 7 Philomath (5-2) — Oregon WestNo. 8 Marshfield (4-3) — Sky-EmNo. 9 Klamath Union (5-3) — SkylineNo. 10 Baker (7-2) — Greater Oregon