COVE TAGGED WITH 'FAVORITE' LABEL, BUT OTHER TEAMS READY TO CHALLENGE
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
This promises to be an exciting boys' basketball season in the Old Oregon League, with a new "top dog" in the league.
Cove, last year's co-champion, is considered one of the top teams in the league along with Jordan Valley, but don't count out Powder Valley and Wallowa, which have both shown flashes in the preseason. They will be teams to reckon with.
The Cove Leopards have to learn to deal with a new challenge being the team everyone is gunning for.
Coach Todd Gorham said he prefers to be the dark horse like the Leopards were last year, but this will be an interesting test for the squad.
"It's unfamiliar territory for us to be favored. We'll see how we handle it and if the kids are up to the challenge," Gorham said.
Cove was the co-champion of the OOL last year and only graduated two players, one of whom was high-scoring Justin Marler.
But, there's plenty of firepower on this squad. Devan Frank will be looked upon for scoring, while guards Josh Pfel and Chris Taylor will be asked to contribute 12-16 points a night, said Gorham.
Pfel is an energy player who plays tough defense, runs the floor well and causes his fair share of havoc on the floor. "He can do a lot of things. He has a real knack for being around the ball," Gorham said.
Gorham added that the players have matured a lot from last season. While Cove had a successful league season last year, the Leopards were heartbroken by a loss in districts, so they did not get to go to the state tournament. Gorham said this is something the team already has talked about. The boys not only want another league title, they are very hungry to get to state.
Gorham said one weakness of the team is that the Leopards are not very deep. He expects that most games there will only be a seven- or eight-player rotation.
"We're going to have to be in good shape," he said.
Cove will carry a total of just 15 kids on varsity and junior varsity. Other members of the varsity are Andy Altenburg, Tanner Marshall and Tom VanNice. Sean and John Louden should see some varsity time, and Gorham said the team will get Jake Locken on the squad after the holidays. Raage Sofe, Scott Cartney and John Cartney round out the roster.
Jordan Valley's coach this year is Dick Royes, who coached the Cove girls' team to the state title last season. Gorham said the Cove boys are really looking forward to playing Jordan Valley this season.
Wallowa just barely missed making the postseason last year. This year, the Cougars are off to a 2-2 start in preseason and showed with a 28-point quarter last weekend that they can light up the scoreboard.
The team is looking to overcome the loss of star player Randy Spaur, who gave the Cougars 18 points and 12 rebounds last season. Coach Gerry McLain said the Cougars will miss Spaur's rebounding as much as his scoring.
Spaur broke two bones in his leg playing football and is not expected back for basketball.
McLain said this could be a blessing in disguise, because it will force some of the other players for Wallowa to step forward. "They're starting to realize they have to learn how to play without (Spaur)," he said. "We've got the guys to do it. They have to step up."
McLain said the Wallowa boys are athletic and will be able to run the floor. His biggest concern is rebounding. Wallowa isn't particularly big Caleb Pringle is 6-foot-2, and Ryan Harshfield is 6-1 ' and will probably be facing a size disadvantage most of the time. McLain said another key is that Wallowa, as well as other teams in the OOL, have to win their home league games.
"The key to this league is holding your home court," he said.
McLain is also pleased with the scoring balance he has seen from his team so far, and he thinks this is a side benefit of unselfish play. In a game against Ione, the Cougars had six boys who scored nine or more points.
McLain also likes his team's youth. Pringle is the only senior, and two freshmen, Kaleb Oveson and Geoff Long, should see significant playing time.
Other members of the varsity are Adam Evans, Patrick Green, Dustin Byers, Jeremy McCulloch, Luke Survis and Kainoa Delatori.
Virtually every player on the basketball team was a member of the Badgers' football team, so Powder Valley's exciting run to the 1A state football championship probably didn't help the Badgers early in the season because of lack of practices.
But, the boys are off to a 2-2 start on their season and are getting in the basketball groove. Powder Valley is coming off a rough season last year, but coach Blake Jones is encouraged by their showing so far in 2003.
"They don't have a lot of basketball experience, but they're great athletes," he said. "I think we're going to get better and better."
Todd Baxter and Deven Thompson bring the most experience to the team and will be looked to for leadership and scoring. Thompson is coming off a partially torn MCL in his knee from football, but he is wearing a brace and doesn't seem affected by it.
"He looks great. He moves really well. We were really worried for a while," said coach Blake Jones.
Kaycee Shroyer and Arden Perkins are tall players who are expected to be strong contributors. "Kaycee does a lot of good things for us," said Jones.
Other members of the varsity are Cody Taylor, who can help fill it up, Justus Gray, Riley Grove, Rylie Wendt, Thomas Weems, Kevin Hopson and Rick Stephens.
Jones said the team will also get a boost from a freshman, Bryson Allen, who should get a lot of playing time on the varsity squad.