ILWACO, Wash. - In Kip Meinhardt's first season at the helm of the Fishermen he guided his team to the state 1A tournament, but that task may be more difficult this season for two reasons.
First, only the top three teams from District IV make the trip to Yakima this season - not four as last year.
Second, is the graduation of Jack Whealdon and his 491 points. Also gone is the length of Ross Kary and the hustle of Kolby Kirby. Before you count out Ilwaco, however, consider that Meinhardt maintains that "hard work in practice" was the key to Ilwaco's success last season.
That work ethic is back and so is Karl Oman with his 14.4 scoring average. He led the Fishermen in assists and was second in rebounding as a sophomore. The lefty point guard got a preview of things to come last year at state when several of his mates went down with the flu, and double and even triple-teams were the norm.
"Karl is a privilege to coach because he puts in the time during the offseason to get better and he's a leader for us on and off the court."
Justin Short is a gritty defender and forward who improved his scoring throughout last season and will be a vital contributor and leader, as well.
"Justin might have to play guard at times and we're hoping to increase his shooting range," Meinhardt said.
The rebounding and defense of Cody Bliss and the size of Bobby Byrd and Kyle Breckinridge will be keys to how well Ilwaco fares this season. "We will look to get the ball inside more this year as Cody, Bobby and Kyle are all strong kids," Meinhardt said.
At the guard position Chris Schommer will provide quickness when he returns from an injury and Ryan Kukula, Patrick Whealdon and Ryan Tapio will add depth at the guard or forward slots. "We will likely go with an eight-man rotation to begin with," Meinhardt said.
Meinhardt hopes to score more in transition and utilize a motion offense that stresses inside-out play. "We want to take advantage of our kids inside and that will open up the outside for Karl and our shooters. With the 35-second shot clock this year we want to run more."
Defensively the Fishermen will "evaluate what works best, and go with it" according to the coach. "Last year we played mostly zone, but this year I may press more and maybe use man-to-man full-court to take advantage of the shot clock. We'll see," Meinhardt said.
Christian Dekeyser, Corey Dunn, Brandon Malmstadt, Kasey Plato, Eli Schenk, Justice Schenk, Matt Wood and Daniel Lopez are also out for the Fishermen. Freshmen on Ilwaco's basketball team include Brenden Greenfield, Jose Gonzales, Jose Hernandez, Ross Kukula, Dan Murillo, Clark Wilson, Eric Christy, Joe Coffey, Frank Matthai, and Austin Wirkkala.
Tim Harrell is again the assistant coach and Paul Jacobsen and Dennis Oman are volunteer coaches.
The Trico League appears to be wide open with Castle Rock and Stevenson having the early edge in talent. The Evergreen League has no dominant team as it did last season, although Onalaska is tabbed as the preseason favorite. "On any given night anyone from top to bottom could win in either league. Victories on the road will be difficult and holding your own at home will be critical," Meinhardt said.
The Fishermen must finish in the Trico's top three to qualify outright for district. The fourth-place team plays Evergreen's fifth-place squad in a pig-tail game for the final berth to District IV. If Ilwaco can remain injury-free they could be in the hunt come tournament time for one of the trio of berths to the Sun Dome in March.