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Looking ahead, not behind

Forest Grove wants to let its improved play on the court erase memories of last year's frustrating season

Doug Hofmeister doesn't want to talk about last year. He doesn't even want to think about last year, and neither does his Forest Grove boys basketball team.

'One of our goals is certainly to put last year behind us,' said Hofmeister prior to last Wednedsay's 'Meet the Vikings' intrasquad scrimmage. 'We sat down as a team and talked about our goals for this year, and the number one goal for the guys is earning respect - they want to earn respect from the community, from the school and from the league.

'That's what they're most excited about and I think that's probably the best way to put last year behind us.'

Of course, anyone familiar with Forest Grove basketball knows that memories of last season will forever be tainted by both the team's 1-22 record and the offseason dismissal of head coach Ty Rothenberger for questionable off-the-court conduct. But this year's team bears very little resemblance to the one from a year ago, and much of that begins at the top with Hofmeister.

A respected head coach with over 300 wins in a 20-year career, Hofmeister ran the Forest Grove varsity program with great success from 1999-2003. In four years his teams won 40 games, culminating with a 15-9 mark in 2003 that still ranks as the third winningest season in school history.

Now, after a three-year layoff, Hofmeister is back at the helm and ready to right the Viking ship.

'These kids are trying to get better every single day,' he said. 'Overall it's one of the best groups I've ever coached in terms of their attitude and being coachable. It's been a real pleasure so far.'

Hofmeister inherits a roster with three returning impact players and three others who saw varsity action last year. He's also looking to get some help from a pair of juniors who will waffle between varsity and JV ball this season.

Back from last year are starting forward Dylan Sullivan and point guard Brett Baumgartner, plus shooting guard Dusty Klein, who found himself in and out of the starting lineup in 2005. Hofmeister is also counting on key contributions from seniors Brock Christensen, Mike Vandebergh and Josh Seitz, all of whom broke into the varsity rotation at one point or another last year.

'We have some experience, and that's obviously a good thing, but we play in such a tough league,' said Hofmeister. 'I'm concerned about our size. We're just very little, and we're going to have to scrap and really fight every single night.'

Sullivan, a versatile, 6-foot-1 combination guard-forward-center, will likely see playing time at all five positions on the floor this year as Hofmeister shuffles his lineup. The senior is a scrappy player and good rebounder who the Vikings will need to step into a more assertive offensive role this season.

'Dylan is not very big, but he's very physical,' said Hofmeister. 'He works his tail off and he can play everywhere. His experience is key - it's like having another coach out on the floor.'

Baumgartner, although just a sophomore, is another heady player who makes good decisions with the ball, but like Sullivan, he will have to learn to be more aggressive offensively for the Vikings to succeed.

'Brett has matured a lot from his freshman year,' said Hofmeister. 'He's got a great feel for the game. The one thing we're working on with him is being more offensive-minded.

'He's already looking to score more in practice and his shot is starting to fall, so it's exciting to see that. I think by the time his career is over he'll be a college-level player.'

Klein, a junior sharpshooter, was an occasional starter last year that Hofmeister feels has the talent to be a force in the Pacific Conference.

'Dusty has a chance to be one of the best players I've ever coached,' he said. 'He's athletic, he's a good outside shooter and he can run forever. I really think he can be a top player in the league.'

The brunt of the offensive work will fall to those three players, but Hofmeister will need some hard work on the boards from a pair of seniors and a pair of juniors.

Christensen (6-foot-2) and Vandebergh (6-foot-3) will both be looked on to provide presence down low, as will junior Codey Hills (6-foot-3) and possibly Josh Matiaco, who Hofmeister called 'probably the best rebounder in the program,' but will likely start the season with the JV team.

Seitz, Forest Grove's record-setting cross country star, gives Hofmeister another experienced long-range bomber, and senior Mike Krebsbach will return to the program after taking time off due to a knee injury.

Hills and fellow junior Trevor Robbins are two other players Hofmeister sees getting significant playing time.

The biggest difference, however, between this year's team and last year's squad may be the pace of play. The 2005 Vikings averaged just 33 points a game and only cracked the 60-point barrier once - in a 60-58 win over Newberg, their only triumph of the season.

While Hofmeister would not quite characterize his coaching mentality as 'run-and-gun,' he said the Viks will definitely pick up the pace this year.

'We've got to figure out our strengths and play to that. Right now we're working on being a more up-tempo team. That's a huge contrast to last year, but the kids enjoy playing that style of basketball,' said Hofmeister. 'We need to shoot a high percentage, and we hope that by getting up and down the court we can do that. We're certainly not going to pound the ball inside.'