NASELLE - "I'm confident that our success in football will have a very positive impact on how our basketball team will do," Comet hoops coach and athletic director Brian Macy predicts. "The football team's winning ways have made a huge boost to the confidence and self-image of our entire school and I'm sure that even though 16 of our basketball players are missing early workouts, we will be just fine in the long run."
The long run includes competing for Pacific 2B League supremacy and ultimately a trip to Spokane for the state basketball tournament in March. Macy's crew of 30 athletes is in the running for both, even if they did lose a week of early season practice to pigskin prowess.
"We have a solid seven or eight player rotation in place from last season and summer league scrimmages," Macy says with confidence. The Comets will again be led by all-league Kyle and Austin Burkhalter. Kyle is a senior who night in and night out must guard the other team's best offensive scorer, a chore he has excelled in the past three seasons. Offensively he is a slasher who can score with a compendium of moves to the hoop or with a mid-range jumper and Macy says he may even ask Kyle to bring the ball up the court on occasion.
Austin is an outside scoring threat, having led Naselle as a freshman in three-point production. "I'm hoping to use Austin and Conor Smith inside more as a post presence," Macy explains. "We will be forced to push the ball up the floor as much as possible. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if we never have to run a half court offense because our fast break is so effective."
Nate Sultemeier is slated to start at the point guard position. Other returning lettermen vying for a starting spot and playing time are Alan Erickson and Gabe See as forwards and Nick Hines at guard.
"Our guards are quick and play well defensively. The key will be how well they develop confidence in moving the basketball up the court," Macy says. "See and Erickson can play inside or outside and Smith has made a commitment to contribute more as a rebounder and scorer."
Coach Macy will run a motion offense with either a three or four guard front to utilize his team's relative quickness. "It's going to be difficult for opponents to contain Kyle inside and Austin outside, especially if Smith can also contribute at the lost post," Macy said. The Comets will play at Lyle Patterson Gymnasium and will employ the same style of defense the legendary coach taught Macy - man-to-man, full-court pressure with maybe a touch of zone press thrown in to "change things up a bit."
Macy predicts, "The Pacific League will be a dog fight. You never know what the private schools (Tacoma Baptist and Northwest Christian) will have for players and South Bend and Valley will again be very quick. Toutle looks to be the favorite in district, but Napavine, Adna, Wahkiakum and Mossyrock all have good athletes and strong programs. There will be a lot of quality teams going after only four berths to state."
Macy says, "We're counting on several guys to step up and take on bigger roles as scorers and defenders. The guys come to practice every night and are dedicated to improving, willing to do whatever it takes to get better."
Look for the Comets to be one of the top dogs in the fight, especially if they can remain healthy. Be assured that Naselle will run and press from buzzer to buzzer and that they will work hard to get the most out of their ability. Keeping Kyle Burkhalter's shoulder in place and him in the lineup may be the spark the Comets will need to make a trip to Spokane for a record 35th time, and the third time this decade.
This will be Macy's fourth year as head coach at Naselle - he was varsity girls' coach at Ocosta for eight seasons. Scott Smith will again be assistant coach and Tim Wirkkala will volunteer for the varsity and Paul Wirkkala for the JV team. If the numbers stay strong he is likely to be the C-squad coach, as well.
Other juniors out for the team are Alex Bennett, Stephan Griss and Mike Shirley. Cody Gilbert is a senior. Sophomores include Drew Macy, Nate Carlson, Randy Hamm, Marcos Herrera, John Hines, Gary Johansen, Larry Johnson, Manual Lopez, Jesus Martinez, Justin Phillips, Logan Scrabeck and Calen Thompson.
Freshmen on the Comet's roster include Ollie Baker, Alex Bighill, Chase Chapman, Ian Fauver, Andy Gonzales, Leonel Mendoza and Kyle Mullins.