West Linn is loaded with scorers and could be one of the states powerhouses again this year

The West Linn boys basketball team has the talent to be among the state's elite programs again this year. Despite losing their point guard and top rebounder, the Lions have reloaded with some more young talent and could be primed to make another run at the Rose Garden.

The two biggest challenges for the Lions in the preseason have been sweating out the football season, hoping that none of its players went down with an injury, and dealing with being displaced from their home gym due to the fire earlier in the fall.

West Linn is currently practicing at Rosemont Ridge Middle School and hopes to be back in the main gym by mid-December.

And the Lions are healthy to start the year. Quarterback Hayden Coppedge returns at forward for the Lions and should be one of the league's top shooters. Jarrod Howard is also back and will fill in as one of the team's more versatile players, along with Colin Davis and Joel Larson, who were all key contributors on the football team.

Replacing Mitch Cokely at point guard will be senior Ty Cleland, who is coming off a terrific summer season. Freshman Payton Pritchard will also handle some point guard duties and could be one of the league's biggest surprises this year.

“The future is bright. Payton's going to be a good one for us. He tried out for the U15 Olympic team earlier and has a good shot of making it,” Viuhkola said.

Anthony Mathis is also back after a dynamic freshman year and is expected to make another step toward becoming one of the state's elite players.

And Ryan Shearmire returns for West Linn in the post after being one of the team's key starters last year, giving the Lions additional experience.

Alejandro Venecia and Kevin Edwards also return to shore up West Linn's bench. The Lions may get a boost midseason from the return of post C.J. Sitton who is recovering from knee surgery.

“We've been hearing good news. We're really pleased with his progress and he could make a big difference for us,” Viuhkola said.

The Lions are loaded offensively with more than a handful of athletes who can score at will. The challenge for West Linn will be how effectively it can lock down on defense, particularly when it comes to keeping the opposition off the offensive boards.

“Our skill level is as good as anyone. We're really emphasizing rebounding first and also getting into people defensively,” Viuhkola said.

West Linn will look to play at a fast pace again this year and hopes to dictate tempo while still staying in control.

“We have to take care of the ball. When you can score the way we can you can't throw the ball away,” Viuhkola said.

The Lions figure to have as much athleticism as talent as nearly anyone in the state and the team hopes to make another deep playoff run this year, perhaps even taking another step forward after advancing to the semifinals last season.

“We have lofty goals. We are definitely talented enough to reach them it's just a matter of can we do the right things? And that process is my responsibility,” Viuhkola said.

West Linn plays a tough preseason schedule, opening up against Grant and participating in the annual Les Schwab Invitational against some of the top in-state and out-of-state competition.

The Lions might get their toughest test this season within their own league. Lake Oswego, which finished second in state last year, returns the bulk of its team and has a healthy Connor Griffin and a standout transfer from Valley Catholic, which could make the Lakers early title favorites.

“LO is really, really good but we think we can give them a challenge,” Viuhkola said.

Clackamas and Canby are also expected to be big factors in the TRL this season.

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