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Damascus looks to defend its Class 1A title

BOYS BASKETBALL

After making a run to the Class 1A championship last season, the Damascus Christian boys basketball team could be staring down another title chase this winter. Meanwhile, Class 2A schools Corbett and Portland Lutheran have their sights set on reaching the state playoffs in the revamped Northwest League.

Following are previews of the four local small-school programs:

• Six returning seniors will look to defend their Class 1A state championship this season, and try to make it two in a row. With popular opinion being that the Eagles possess more than enough talent and experience to run away with their second straight title, Coach Mike Mai expectations are a little more down-to-earth.

'We haven't set winning the state championship as a goal,' Mai said. 'The kids know that a lot of things have to come together in order for that to happen. Our goal is to play up to our potential. We believe that if we do that then we have an opportunity to make another run at it.'

At least experience won't be an issue. Of the returning six seniors, two are reigning all-state players with post Matt Best and guard Ben Whitrock. Mai expects them both to build off their impressive post-season performances last season.

The other seniors include point guard Ryan Closner, guard Joe Russua, and forward Jeff Hester, along with sixth man Seth Lindquist. All are expected to play pivotal roles this season.

In addition to being one of the most experienced teams, the Eagles plan to be one of the best defensive teams again this year. After posting an average of only 37 points given up per game last season, the Eagles are trying to one-up themselves this year making 35 this year's target.

'It's a lofty goal,' Mai said. 'But we can do it with our height and speed.'

If all goes well for the Eagles this season there's no reason they can't come away with another championship, which would be especially sweet for their seniors.

'These guys have been playing together since the sixth grade, if not earlier,' says Mai of his seniors. 'It will be a special year for them.'

• New coach Blair Edwards will have his work cut out for him this season, as he assumes a program that is long on talent but short on experience.

'Were in a rebuilding year. I've got eight freshmen on my varsity team,' Edwards said. 'We're not going to worry about the final outcome of games as much as we are about growing all season long.'

The Huskies do have an experienced backcourt, led by senior guards Zach Powell and Richie Gordon. Powell looks to be one of the top point guards in the league as he enters his fourth season on the varsity squad. Gordon will man the starting shooting guard position.

'He [Powell] is an excellent defender and team leader,' Edwards said.

Two talented forwards, junior Cody Webster and sophomore Larry Morgan, will man the Huskies' frontcourt. Morgan has already shown some of his potential this season, as he blocked 10 shots in the Huskies' pre-season game.

'Morgan is very talented and is going to be very good. He has tremendous potential,' Edwards said.

• Basketball season is starting just a little too soon for the Cardinals this year.

All but six members of Corbett squad also played for the football team, which reached the state quarterfinals. The result has been a truncated pre-season practice schedule for the team.

'We practiced Monday [Nov. 27] with everybody for the first time,' said head coach Roy Altman, who also coaches the football team. 'Then we played our first game on Tuesday [Nov. 28]. We haven't had a lot of time.'

Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have a lot of leadership and experience from last season with five seniors returning to the floor.

Leading the charge is guard Shawn Holbrook. According to Altman, Holbrook was one of the teams leading players and best defenders last season. Kevin Greenslade, who splits time between guard and wing, figures to complement him nicely on offense.

'Shawn and Kevin are guys we'll lean on heavy for scoring and leadership,' Altman said..

Other seniors on the squad include: point guard Spencer Childs, post player Neal Callahan and Andrew Hanes, who returns this season after two years on the wrestling team.

'We don't have a lot of height,' Altman said. 'We don't have many guys taller than 6'1' or so.'

None of this bothers him of course. He preaches an aggressive but methodical style of play for his team. The Cardinals goal is to be one of the best defenses in the league.

Altman is counting on his senior-laden unit to come around over the course of the season and hopes that their experience will lead them to the playoffs. 'We're going to have to play ourselves into basketball shape. It might take us a while to gel, but we'll figure things out as we go.'

• The Blue Jays should also be in the Northwest League playoff mix with guard Scott Burris returning on the perimeter and post player Cody Stiller bringing a presence to the paint.

Lutheran went 10-5 in the East Division last year. Coach Chad Rush could not be reached in time for this preview.