With seven seniors on his team that finished runner-up at the State 4A boys basketball tournament last year, Central Valley coach Rick Sloan knew there would be work to do to have a chance to return to state this season.
With one starter back in senior Austin Rehkow and two reserves that saw key time, Sloan had some nice pieces to start the reloading process.
“We had a point guard with Adam (Chamberlain), we had a shooter with Austin and a big with Beau (Byus),” Sloan said. “Those are three pretty key pieces. Over the summer the other role players really impressed me.”
They were juniors AJ Knudsen and Austin Daines, both of whom earned starting jobs, and role players Ryan Deckard, a senior, and Justin Fayant, a junior.
“They really filled in nicely and added a physical presence,” Sloan said. “You hope that they can step up and play at the varsity level. When they actually do it, it’s a real pleasant surprise. They’re the real key. I knew the returning kids would be solid. It’s the other guys who didn’t have the experience that were the unknown. They’ve done a great job.”
No reason Sloan and the Bears believe something special like last year can’t happen again when the final three days of the state tournament are held at the Tacoma Dome, beginning Thursday. CV (22-2) takes on undefeated Jackson (24-0) at 2 p.m.
Chamberlain and Byus, both juniors, have helped Rehkow in the scoring duties. Knudsen and Daines have consistently been the Bears’ best defenders.
The veterans have combined to average 41.7 points per game. The 20.2 combined from the other four has been a bonus.
Sloan has been around the game long enough to know how well his team could fare this week.
“The biggest thing is the realization that this is high school basketball and that on any given night anybody can beat anybody,” he said. “Any one of the eight teams could play in the title game so, yeah, we have a shot.”
The Bears built a 16-point lead over Todd Beamer last Saturday at Puyallup and watched it all disappear before CV pulled out an overtime victory. What impressed Sloan was his team’s resiliency late.
“Our focus and our will to win were pretty impressive,” Sloan said. “A buddy of mine was over there and he told me after the game he couldn’t believe how calm I was. I told him that these kids were playing so hard that whatever happens happens, because this is about as good of effort as we can give.
“We’ve never hit on all cylinders where all seven guys are actually playing to their best ability. They did against Beamer.”
Rehkow was right in the middle of CV’s deep run last year. He believes the Bears can do it again.
“Losing in the championship game definitely stings,” Rehkow said. “We set ourselves a goal this year. We saw what we could do this summer. All year long we’ve said every game is a step to state. We’re at the Dome but we’re not finished. We’re looking to bring the gold ball home.”
Chamberlain said the approach isn’t complicated.
“We’ve got to come with focus,” Chamberlain said. “Some of us have experienced state so we can be leaders and help the younger ones out. If we share the ball and work as a team we’re going to be hard to beat.”
Byus said the Bears need to play like they have all season.
“We just need to go out and play our game – play hard,” Byus said. “We need to keep up the intensity just like last year’s team. If we do we’ll go far. Not many teams can compete with us when we have that heart and drive. We want to prove that even though we’re a young team we can make a run like last year’s team.”
“One thing we like to do is compete,” Rehkow said. “That’s how we got here. I think we’re going to have a good run. One thing we pride ourselves in is defense. Against Beamer it was more defense than offense in the end. We’re battle tested. We’re going to work our butts off and hopefully we’ll see the results.”