Wilsonville's state finalist boys team led from within
For Wilsonville boys basketball, the start of the season and the end of the season were opposites. After going 4-6 in the preseason against a myriad of teams from different leagues and states, the Wildcats pulled it together in the regular season. How well did the team do in the Northwest Oregon Conference? They went 14-0 against all comers and finished the season with the second highest offensive output in the league, behind only St. Helens.
More impressively, Wilsonville shut down its opponents defensively. The team allowed only 1,116 points over the course of the season, the fewest of any team in the NWOC. Wildcats head coach Chris Roche attributes that to the elevated play of his entire team.
"(Senior) Caleb (Larsen) was a dominant defender and pushed the pace for us all year," Roche said. "'Big Z' (senior Zac Rossetti), in some of our biggest games, came up massive in the paint, both scoring and rebounding. (Sophomore) Keegan (Shivers) had a monster year — defending, hustling, rebounding and scoring, too."
The overall arc of going from sub .500 in the preseason to returning to the state championship game for a fourth consecutive year is quite remarkable. Roche knew that it would be a difficult journey back to the finals, but also knew his team had it in them.
"We kept the faith and simply kept working to get better," Roche said. "To take that preseason and flip that into an undefeated league result in the NWOC and then a run to the state championship game, I mean what a great year. You don't often see teams that are 4-6 on January 1 with a five-game losing streak playing for the state championship 10 weeks later."
The team came into its own over the course of the season. Junior Jack Roche turned into a dynamic playmaker and scorer for the team; sophomore Dakota Reber grew into a dominant force inside the paint, and was awarded all-tournament first team honors after the end of the season. Roche also pointed to other younger players, and seniors who helped propel the team forward.
"(Sophomore) Gabe (Reichle) was very efficient, and he became more aggressive at the end of the year which helped us become a little more explosive offensively," Roche said. "I thought both (senior) Draco (Bynum) and (senior) Ryan (Napoli) were exceptional in their roles, too. So, it was very much our team that rose to the occasion; everybody did good things. You don't always see that, but with this group it was true."
At the end of the season, Roche was incredibly proud of his team. Instead of looking to the future and next season, the coach and his staff are going to take time to focus on the accomplishments of the season.
"These kids achieved a ton, and I don't want to short-change them in any way by looking ahead," Roche said. "Suffice it to say, we should be motivated next year. When you get that close to a state championship, but fall short, there should be plenty of motivation to get better, to get back and to compete again. That said, my focus is still on this year right now."