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A winning mentality

OC guys are ranked No. 1 in the state after three games


by: JOHN DENNY - Oregon City seniors (from left) Cody Hole, Nolen Muckenthaler and Valentino Polk have high expectations for Oregon City High Schools boys basketball team this winter. The Pioneers have been impressive in early preseason, earning wins over McKay (65-58), Liberty (40-22) and Centennial (56-41), all on the road.With a new lineup and a new coach, the players on Oregon City High School’s boys basketball team appear well on their way to a rags to riches story.

The Pioneers return only three players from last year’s varsity that won only five of 24 games and went 2-8 in the Three Rivers League. But the Pioneers are off to a tremendous start this winter, winning their first three games, while outscoring their opponents by an average of 13 points, 54-41.

The Pioneers entered play this week ranked No. 1 in the state in the OSAA power rankings, with wins over 12th-ranked Centennial (56-41), 13th-ranked Liberty (40-22) and 16th-ranked McKay (65-58). Liberty (3-1) averaged 46 points a game against three other early-season opponents.

“I think we’re going to be a lot more competitive,” said Oregon City 6-3 senior guard/wing Nolan Muckenthaler. “We have good senior leadership and we’ve bought into the coach’s system.”

Muckenthaler, 5-10 senior guard Cody Hole and 6-0 senior guard Valentino Polk are the only returnees from last year’s Pioneer varsity.

“My team goal is to make the state playoffs and make it to the Rose Garden,” Polk said.

“My goal for the team is to improve every single day, and just get better,” Hole said.

“I’d like to make it to the state playoffs this year,” Muckenthaler said.

“Our coach is holding us to high standards,” Polk said. “He tells us to treat every game like it’s the Super Bowl, like every game is our last game. It keeps us focused on our objectives.”

The three veterans say they expect the Three Rivers League to be tough from top-to-bottom, but they are not counting themselves out.

“Past records mean little,” Polk said. “Anything can happen. It depends on who shows up and who doesn’t. Look at our baseball team. Last year they were ranked second or third from the bottom and they ended up winning state.”

“We’re excited to prove ourselves,” Hole said.

The Pioneers have certainly made believers of their first three opponents.

“It’s nice to be 3-0, but the rankings don’t really mean much at this point,” said Oregon City first-year head coach Aaron Newkirk. “Our first three games have been away and it counts more in the rankings when you win on the road. It’s still early, but I’m happy with the way the kids have been playing.... The kids have put themselves in a place where they can have some success on the court, because they put in the time in the offseason, and they are working hard in practices this fall.”

Players new to this year’s varsity roster include: seniors Dominik Mackinnon (6-0 wing) and T.T. Munoz (5-8 guard); juniors Clay Reece (5-8 guard), Brad Martin (6-5 post/wing), Kyle Anderson (5-8 guard) and Ryan Markuson (6-6 post); sophomores Austin DeWitz (6-4 wing) and Hunter Knighton (6-2 guard); and freshmen Trevon Bradford (5-9 guard) and Briggs Young (5-9 guard).

Knighton is a transfer from West Linn, where he swung between jayvee and varsity last season.

Martin and DeWitz have been starting, along with the three returning seniors.

“In our last game, our three leading scorers were a freshman and two sophomores,” Newkirk said. “Trevon [Bradford] has led our scoring the last two games. He’s a really good athlete....

“The seniors have done a great job setting the example with their work ethic, and everyone is working hard.”

Bradford (12 points), Knighton (12 points), DeWitz (10 points) and Muckenthaler (9 points) were the top point-getters for the Pioneers as they breezed by Centennial last Friday, rolling to a 24-10 advantage in the first half. Led by Hole (6 steals), the Pioneers forced 22 turnovers.

“Those [turnovers] were all in the half-court, because we don’t full-court press,” Newkirk observed.

Hole (20 points), Polk (18 points) and Muckenthaler (12 points) all scored in double figures in the win at McKay in the Pioneers’ season opener. Doing most of the damage in transition, Polk was 6-of-7 from the field.

Polk says the biggest difference from last year is that the Pioneers are playing more of an up-tempo game.

Asked about the key to having a successful season, Muckenthaler said, “Everyone needs to keep working hard every day, and playing together as a team.”

The Pioneers are back in action this Friday and Saturday, when they entertain Centennial, David Douglas and Sherwood in a tournament. Oregon City plays Centennial Friday at 7 p.m. and David Douglas Saturday at 7 p.m.