What do the Stevensville Yellowjackets do for an encore, after the first state boys’ basketball title in school history?
Reload and rebuild. While three starters – sweet-shooting guard Jared Schultz and post players Zach Gavlak and Jesse Sims – return from a 20-3 team, the Yellowjackets had little bench play in 2012-13.
They also replaced their coach: Keith Chambers stepped down after winning that elusive title, and up stepped former player Joey Wark, a 1995 Stevi grad who guided its freshmen the past two seasons.
Depth being what it was, Wark labels guard Jace Omlid as a promising newcomer even though the junior has been in the program for two years. Another senior, Chance Coleman, was scoring at a 7.5-point clip through Stevi’s first six games before missing a big chunk of 2012-13 with an ankle injury.
The “additions” of both should keep the ball rolling for Stevensville, which remains the pick in the Southwestern A.
“Omlid is going to start the first game,” said Wark. “He brings a lot of outside shooting to us, which is something that could benefit our inside guys.”
It would also take some pressure off Schultz, not that the point guard minds.
“Jared is definitely the captain out there,” said Wark. “When he goes fast, we go fast.“
Butte Central is the most obvious threat with four starters back from a 15-9, state-tournament team.
Maroons’ coach Brodie Kelly has first-team all-league forward Nate Bolstad as well as guard Kale Guldseth.
Dillon, with Terry Thomas still at the controls, remains a threat as well. The Beavers went 15-5 last season and return a pair of starters in guards Troy Scott – one opposing coach called him the best player in the conference – and Trae Williams.
Anaconda is coming off a 4-18 season but has four starters returning for second-year coach Bill Hill. Among them is guard Jackson Wagner, the Copperheads’ leading scorer last year at 10.2 points a game. But the key might be point guard Caleb Stetzner, a sophomore who played a ton last season.
Hamilton plans to go up-tempo and coach Toby Stack figures he has the perfect guard to lead the attack in sophomore Josh Heath. Kameron Kohn, a 6-4 senior forward, averaged 8.2 points last season while earning second-team all-conference honors.
Corvallis returns three starters from a squad that won just two games. Coach Joe Jessop still has eight players with varsity experience, including juniors Jayce Gilder and Andrew Leopold and senior point guard Alma Powell. Jessop expects Gilder, who stands 6-4, to be one of the better rebounders in a conference full of them.
That includes Sims, the State A tournament MVP, and Gavlak of the aforementioned Yellowjackets. The 6-4 duo and Schultz made Stevi the epitome of balance last year: Each averaged from 12.9 to 13.1 points a game. Balance is good, and so is depth: Wark plans to play eight Jackets.
No surprise: Columbia Falls is the pick.
The main Wildcats are 6-5 Jared Trinastich and 5-9 Alex Presnell, two seniors who averaged 11 points a game. But eight other letter winners return from an 18-6 team, in a program that has won 30 of its last 32 league games.
Cary Finberg, who has coached the Wildcats to four State A titles (they were third last year), has almost an embarrassment of scoring options: Guard Ty Morgan, wing Austin Kimmett, 6-6 junior Grant Stenger, junior guard Trevor Houston.
There’s also plenty of height. Seven players are listed at 6-4 or taller, including 6-6 sophomore Grant Wallace.
Frenchtown is the closest pursuer, thanks to a roster that includes 6-4 rebounder Bridger Truett and 6-2 shooter John Chapman (17.1 ppg last season). Three more seniors – Andrew Honken, Jordan Moe and Bobby Erbaugh – measure 6-3, giving the Broncs high hopes of a second straight trip to state.
Promising newcomers include juniors Quintin Mazolla and Levi Lind.
Whitefish is coming off a strong regular season that ended with a third-place showing at divisionals. The Bulldogs have six seniors, including 6-2 forward Keaton Nicholson. They also picked up Garrett Anderson, a 6-8 transfer from Kalispell.
Andrew Curley, a transfer from St. Ignatius, gives Polson another shooter and the Pirates will need some to offset their lack of height. Cedrick Smith, an all-conference pick after averaging 10.5 points last year, leads the way.
Libby has one returning starter, though he’s a good one: Guard Jared Wilson averaged 15 points a year ago. In 6-3 Quinn Sullivan and 6-4 Mike Curtiss, the Loggers have size. Underclassmen Johnny Cielak (5-9 sophomore) and Erik Lauer (6-4 freshman) might make an impact.