Wilsonville returns three starters from state championship team
Wilsonville went 27-2 last season and won its third state title in four years.
But all of those wins don't mean anything for the Wildcats as they open the 2019-20 season Friday night at West Linn.
"This is a new deal," Wilsonville coach Chris Roche said. "This team is going to forge its own path, and we've got our own journey to take. I think all of those guys who played, those are memories and experiences that they'll take with them, but we all know it doesn't mean anything for this year. All it does is paint a bull's-eye on your back."
Reaching the Class 5A state championship game for five straight years, the Wildcats are used to the bull's-eye.
"I remember way back when, the first time we were ranked No. 1 and the first time we played in the state championship, it was such a big deal," Roche said. "Now our kids, it doesn't even faze them. But at the same time, it comes back to you're going to get what you earn. Every game starts 0-0. All that history can help you. It might give you confidence and some ways to help handle adversity and more experience with certain things, but it's still 0-0 and you have to go out and compete."
The Wildcats graduated five seniors from last year's team, including Jack Roche, the Class 5A co-player of the year.
"That was a great group," coach Roche said. "They were tough guys. We had some very high-profile guys in that group and also together they were tough and did unglamorous things and sacrificed for the betterment of the team, all those little things that you would hope kids would appreciate and do and they were great at it. They were an impressive group."
But Wilsonville also has a lot of talent returning.
"This group has probably learned quite a bit from those guys, and we've got guys back who were key contributors as well," Roche said. "It's not like we're not returning anybody, because we definitely are."
The Wildcats return three starters, all seniors — Keegan Shivers, Gabe Reichle and the other Class 5A player of the year — Dakota Reber.
"He's a really talented kid," Roche said of Reber, a 6-6 wing. "He plays his best basketball at the most important times. In the state tournament, he really played well. I think that's where he really made his mark the most last season. He was a really good player all year long, but when we got to those really big tough games, he was a real dominant presence."
Seniors Andrew Classen and Finlay Dunn also are expected to play key roles.
"We think those five guys, while they have big shoes to fill in terms of leadership that we lost, they're capable of leading the charge and making this a great, fun season for everybody," Roche said. "With our senior group, we have quite a bit of experience and the potential to lead and try to help all the rest of our team come along."
Juniors Riley Scanlan (6-5) and Cason Dougall (6-6), and sophomore Logan Thebiay (6-8) make the Wildcats one of the bigger teams in the state.
"We have some size and we have some young guys coming," Roche said. "We're excited about all of that."
Wilsonville will play its toughest schedule in the last five years. After opening the season at West Linn, the Wildcats will play in the Capitol City Classic on Dec. 18-21. The Salem tournament features the No. 1-ranked player, Evan Mobley, and California powerhouse Rancho Christian.
After Christmas, Wilsonville will then play in the Les Schwab Invitational at Liberty High School.
"There's no safety net," Roche said. "There's a lot of really tough games in there. We've got to be ready to go. There's no rest for the weary on our schedule. Our job will be to make sure we stay positive and keep working hard and get better, whether the outcomes are exactly what we want or not. As long as we improve and stick with it, it will be good for us."
The Wildcats begin their NWOC schedule on Jan. 14 at St. Helens.
"It's a really great group of kids, and we don't fit together perfectly just yet," Roche said. "But what's been exciting for us as a staff is how hard they're working and how well they get along. We have a real good vibe, so we're hoping that's going to help us be as good as we can be."
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