PREP FOCUS: Valley Catholic boys basketball going after state title
The Valley Catholic boys basketball team has a lot to prove this season.
Valley has a hunger to verify that last years disappointing end to its banner season was nothing more than a two-game fluke at the Class 3A tournament in Coos Bay.
The Valiants want to demonstrate they can rebound and deploy the kind of rugged defense that is warranted and expected in the postseason, when referees tend to swallow their whistles.
With Gabe Taylor, Jarrett Gray, Tysen Prunty and Carter Buuck back in the starting lineup and a talented bench ready to chip in, Valley the No. 1 team in the 3A coaches preseason poll above all wants to establish its worthy of a state championship.
A year ago, after crushing Cascade Christian in the quarterfinals, the Valiants were vanquished by Blanchet Catholic in the semis in a 47-38 slugfest that sent Valley to the consolation bracket against Dayton. The Bulldogs bullied the Valiants as well. Though Dayton was not nearly as talented, Valley struggled from the field, missing shots it normally makes, including a bountiful amount of layups due to the physicality of the tournament. The free throw line was unkind as well.
The loss drove the Valiants to go work out in the morning in the offseason, lift weights and do conditioning. Whenever Valley needed motivation this summer, players reached down in their gut and grabbed hold of that sickening feeling of losing in the state tournament.
That didnt sit well, having to think about that all summer, says coach Joel Sobotka. We didnt play our best in those last two games, and we got beat. We know we can play better. Our guys are hungry and dialed in right now. They want to come back and prove themselves.
Valley is further ahead than it was this time a year ago because Sobotka and the Valiants are more familiar with one another. Instead of teaching in practice, theres a lot more review and assessment of execution in Sobotkas second year at the helm. And, with a veteran crew in the fold, the Valiants learning curve with Sobotkas system is much less steep. Kazuma Lane, Taylor, Buuck and Gray know what to expect from their coach and what they need to do to win a state championship.
Those guys really need to set the tone every day in practice, Sobotka says. I challenge them to do that, so the younger guys see what its like, and they emulate that. You want guys who are trying to get better every day, and thats those four guys. I like our group and the fact that I think were going to get better. We want to be playing our best basketball in March.
Valley will be without its senior star Buuck until January, after the lefty tore his non-shooting shoulder during the football season. Buucks a player whos an extension of Sobotka on the floor, with his understanding of the game and willingness to do the little things. The 6-footer can play three or four positions on the floor and act as a second point guard along with Gray. Getting Buuck back come Lewis and Clark League play, to go along with Taylor, Gray and Prunty, will be a big boost with two months until tournament time. In the meantime, the Valiants need other guys such as Drew VanderZanden, David Baglai,and Alex Butz to seize the opportunity of extra playing time until Buuck makes his return.
The Valiants have a rugged preseason schedule, with Blanchet Catholic, Dayton, Westside Christian and La Salle all on the docket. Three of those four teams defeated Valley last year.
Its not going to be one person who does it, Sobotka says. Weve talked about everybody chipping in because Carter can do so many things whether its points, rebounds or assists. Well have to do it by committee, and I think we have guys who can play well. Our returning starters are really going to have to take on that leadership role.
Taylor was a first-team all-state pick last year who signed a letter-of-intent with the University of Portland in the fall. At 6-7 with a soft outside shooting touch and fluid mobility for a big guy, Taylor can score on anyone from virtually any spot on the hardwood. Sobotka has challenged his star player to be more of a leader on both ends of the floor and become an aggressive rebounder on the glass.
With the strength hes added in the weight room since last season ended, I think thats really going to pay off for him, Sobotka says. Hes looked fantastic so far, and hes really settling in, and with his work ethic, has set himself up to have another great year.
A 6-1 floor general with great court vision and the desire to set up his teammates while still attacking, Gray is stepping up as a vocal leader. With Gray as the accelerator, Valley likes to onrush its opponent when the opportunity arises, but the desire is always to get quality shots whether its on the break or in the half-court. Getting into teams defensively and clearing the glass will be consequential in setting up Valleys offense and triggering transition chances.
We always want to be on the attack, but we still can come down and execute in the half court if we need to, Sobotka says. Thats what I like about these guys. We can pick up full court, press and trap, but we can also play solid on offense.