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Ferris could find itself in elite territory

With what Ferris did in football and the start the Saxons have had in basketball, I got to wondering if a 4A school has won the state championships in both sports in the same year.

So I checked out the WIAA website. The WIAA has governed state football since 1973 and just one 4A school, Juanita, has won state titles in both sports in that 38-year span. It happened in 1984. Bethel and Wilson finished runners-up in both sports in 2000 and 1998, respectively.

I’m not suggesting that Ferris will pull a double this year, but the Saxons will challenge for a state trophy in basketball.

Ferris has set a standard in basketball, and you don’t have to glance too far back in history to review it. The Saxons, you’ll recall, won back-to-back state titles in 2007 and 2008.

This year’s team is good and it wouldn’t be fair to compare it to those teams. Coach Don Van Lierop cautiously avoided comparisons when I talked with him about this season’s team and those teams.

He admitted that there are some similarities. Work ethic and chemistry are two that jump out to Van Lierop.

After losing its season opener to defending Idaho 5A champ Post Falls, Ferris has reeled off nine straight wins and sits atop the Greater Spokane League at 8-0.

The trend with this year’s team is balanced scoring. All five starters – seniors Riley Stockton, Taylor Kamitomo and Jordan Tonani and juniors Chris Wilson and Chase Haack – are averaging eight or more points per game. Stockton leads the way at 16. A few times all five starters have scored in double figures in the same game.

“That’s one of the big keys,” said Stockton, a three-year starter along with Tonani. “It’s hard to focus on one of our players because any one of us can go off on a certain night. That’s one of our strengths.”

Stockton, Tonani and Kamitomo were starters on the football team. Junior Kurtis Karstetter, who also started in football, and junior Mason Maxey, also a football player, come off the bench in basketball.

Van Lierop senses a carry over from the football success. And the football players have made a quick and efficient transition to basketball.

“It’s a hard thing to do to switch gears,” Van Lierop said. “There’s confidence that they’ve carried from football. They’re willing to do the little things that make a big difference.”

Van Lierop knew it could be a special season last summer.

“Their work ethic in the summer was great,” he said. “It’s been just as good as it was in the summer. Wherever the players were supposed to be in the summer, they’d beat the coaches there.”

It’s been a similar approach this season.

“They start practice early and get through drills early,” Van Lierop said. “In our basketball championship years, they did a good job of just focusing on one game at a time. This group is doing the same.”

Within the Saxons’ team concept, each player has a defined role. Take Haack, for example. He’s sort of the team’s designated garbage man.

“Riley scores, Taylor is on the boards getting about 10 a game, Chris is scoring and shooting (3-pointers) and Jordan is playing great at point guard,” Haack said. “Me, I’m just there to get offensive rebounds. Coach told me to get those garbage boards. I’ll take whatever I get. It doesn’t matter to me as long as I play.”

Haack had 11 points and 11 rebounds in the Saxons’ win at Rogers on Tuesday.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Van Lierop said.

The final product could be special.