ILWACO - Matt Blair preaches defense, rebounding, and patience on offense. With only one starter returning from his 15-8 squad that came within one victory of a state 2A tournament bid last season, he says, "How quickly we pick up those three fundamentals will determine who plays for us and how well we will do against the rest of the league."
Blair, assistant Chris Hill and volunteer Paul Jacobson greeted 25 hopefuls Nov. 15. Jordan Williams is the only returning starter, and Blair will rely upon him to score and to guard the other team's best player most nights. Williams, a junior who has started since his freshman year, relishes that role according to the coach.
"We expect to put the ball in Jordan's hands a lot," Blair predicts.
Another player counted on to produce big scoring numbers is Jared Schaak. The 6'4" post is getting stronger and has developed a nice 15-foot jumper.
Blair also said Dylan Wirkkala will be counted upon heavily to bring the ball up the court as point guard.
"Dylan will have to take care of the ball and keep his head up so he can make others better on offense."
Peter Gaynor has gained a great deal of confidence and will be the other guard.
"Peter had a fine football season and should become a good scorer for us." Mooch Smith and Joe Goelz will vie for the "4 position" for the Fishermen hoopsters. "Both guys are blue-collar workman type players. They both hustle and rebound well," Blair stated.
Scott Fagerland is also more confident after the summer and will provide depth at the guard position. Jason Wirkkala and Ubaldo Sebastian are newcomers to the sport, but are athletic seniors who the coach is hopeful will contribute. Mike Huitt and John Hayes will see some JV action to further gain experience, but both have excellent speed and stamina and will "show the younger guys how to fill roles" according to Blair.
The Fishermen will utilize their team speed to press at opportune times and to play rugged man-to-man defense.
"We will mix up our defense with zones and presses," Blair explained. "We don't want to be predictable." Offensively, he plans to spread the court to get open shots against opponents who will almost always have bigger players inside.
He expects Toledo (featuring 6'9" Artemis Wallace) and Napavine (6'4" Loren Bluhm) to be the cream of the crop in the SWW 1A League and District.
"We surely are not among the favorites, but we have an enthusiastic and hard-working group of kids. As coaches we are going to be more patient this season, and come District time we hope we will have taught enough for our kids to earn a chance to go to state."
Blair's formula of defense, rebounding, and controlling the ball on offense to "shorten the game" has been successful 59 of 100 times at Ilwaco, often against talented 2A teams. With the remaining seven squads in the District being relatively equal, don't count Ilwaco out as being "the best of the rest" and maybe even knocking off one of the top dogs in the league come mid-February.
Other players for the Fishermen are Paul Blaylock, Cody and Colten Chalker, Robert Crete, Jordan DeSimone, Casey Heagy, Matt Kaino, Nick Morrison, Shane Persinger, Brad Reeder, Iving Rosales, Scott Simons, Junior Talancon and Anthony Wirkkala.