By Jeremy McDonald
STAYTON, Ore.– With Thanksgiving 48 hours away and their first game versus Central in a week-and-a-half away, both the Stayton Boys and Girls basketball teams are about halfway through the winter training ‘preseason’ and were practicing at the same time on campus.
Over in the auxiliary gym next to the softball fields, the boys basketball team has something unique this season:
Kaleb Anundi and Riley Nichol are both about six-foot-five to six-foot-seven with Anundi the latter even though Nichol looks to be about half-an-inch shorter than him.
On the court too was Daynan Palmer is about six-foot-four, Salem Academy-transfer in Micah Jenkins is about six-foot-two. Guys like Tony Schoenborn (6’1), Jerry Daniels (6’0), Nate Hendricks (6’0) and Logan Classen are actually short compare to their taller teammates this year.
But regardless, excitement is there after a summer where they’ve worked their tails off to make this upcoming season count.
“After playing with the guys all summer non-stop, I’ve never been more excited, especially not only with Kaleb but with all of these seniors and leaders, a little sophomore point guard,” said Nichol on what’s to come. “I’ve never been more excited.”
That little sophomore guard is Logan Classen, the younger brother of 2017 Eagle Grad Jacob Classen who’s now the JV2 coach; and the sophomore knows he has big shoes to fill with the graduation of Cade Nau this past June but is excited for what is to come this season.
“Cade being a senior and me being a sophomore, there’s a big difference between that but I feel like I can step-in and I feel like we won’t skip a beat because we got Riley, we got Kaleb, those guys are play-makers for us,” said Classen. “Jerry Daniels when we get him back from his ankle (injury), we’re going to have him, he’s a play-maker too. I just got to get the ball to all of these guys for them to score…all of these guys are very consistent players.
“I think we all got to come together and I feel like we’ll do good.”
Classen spoke to the firepower of the team that starts with the Kevin Durant-like range of Nichol and the Dikembe Mutombo-like defense of Anundi, those two will definitely set the pace for Stayton this year as Daniels, Classen and Hendricks set the pace from the perimeter.
Over the last three-years, the Eagles have been on the bubble of making the postseason with a play-in game, but whatever may it is, Stayton can’t get over the hump and get into the bracket; but could this be the year where they actually do?
“To become the team we can be, it all starts on defense because right now that’s what we’re slacking the most,” said Anundi. “So if we can lock down on the ball, I believe we have a good shot at it this year.”
Both the guys and girls have a challenge to start the season this year. The guys start with Central and Banks while the Lady Eagles start the season with the Bill Spelgatti Memorial Tournament that features powerhouse 3A teams in Salem Academy and Dayton right off the bat.
And across the parking lot in the main gym, the second-year under Darren Shryock-era is about a week-and-a-half in and with familiar faces like sisters Lexi and Alyssa Smart and Alexa Bender; the Lady Eagles are looking to make it back to the postseason and the Field of 16 for the first-time since the 2015 season.
The experiences of fighting back and making a late-game rally versus a Marshfield team that finished fifth-place in 4A last season entering this season served as a lesson for them to take into this season said Bender.
“It just taught us that, it taught us what we’re capable of,” said Bender of the game. “Like we have so much potential and we know that we do, we just need to work towards it. We are, I know we are going to be one of the better teams, we just have to work up to our potential and that’s what I think we have.”
The thing that Bender points to that will help them this year is confidence and working towards that for this season and during the season to help get them back to either a play-in game or a spot in the Field of 16.
“If we just keep working hard, we really need to believe in ourselves. We have a problem with confidence I think and so I think if we keep working, work as a team and build confidence as a team; then I think it’ll get us farther than we can imagine.
As they entered the summer basketball season with Alyssa Lindemann and Tess Hendricks graduating and Emma Lindemann not returning this season, the question became who was going to step in as the guards this year in replace for them.
And yes there were some nerves in trying to find that, but the answer came by way of three transfers that came their way: Oregon City’s KJ and Alli Nyquist and Regis’ Genevieve Frith. Alli Nyquist saw some action for the Lady Pioneers in their second-place finish at the 6A State Playoffs last season while Frith saw significant time in the Lady Rams sixth-place finish in 2A.
And over the summertime during summer league, the three grew comfortable with their new teammates in building that team chemistry then so by this time it’s smooth sailing going through the good times together and the adversity of the six-player game during the summer.
“I believe that it will be so important, with new girls coming from Oregon City, me transferring over I think that being a family and walking together will be overall the most important thing,” said Frith.
As for contributing, it’s just meshing with their post and showing what they can do against the challenges ahead come league with the North Marion and Cascade guard groups especially.
“I really think that we need to play both offense and defense, show both sides of us and do our best,” said Frith. “I mean all of our post do their best to get open, all we need to do is push it up the court and keep going.”
The season starts December 1 at home for the Stayton Boys versus the Panthers of Central and the season starts November 30 at Sutherline for the Lady Eagles versus Lakeview.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald