Coach and his brothers lead Vernonia to fourth in 2A state tournament
Vernonia's head coach and two players brothers are on hoop team
High school athletics often consist of multiple family members participating on the same team. It's common for siblings to be teammates and very frequently parents' coach their children's sports teams.
The situation is even a little more unique at Vernonia High School where boys' basketball coach David Weller is the older brother of Logger senior twins Byron and Craig Weller.
After five years as an assistant to former coach Ted Aubin, David Weller was hired as the Loggers head coach last September, shortly after his wedding in August. Aubin, a history teacher, was laid off and moved to Eastern Oregon where he's now the boys' coach at Burns High.
The brotherly-love atmosphere among the trio, rarely seen on the basketball court, proved to be a formula for success this year for Vernonia. Coach Weller, 25, enjoyed remarkable success in his first-year taking the Loggers to the 2A, state tournament.
Dennis and Diane Weller, David's parents, have five boys including Jason, 20, and Mark, 22. David, a 2004 Vernonia graduate, was an assistant coach when Jason played on Vernonia's basketball team prior to graduating in 2010. David works at Photo Solutions in Vernonia, where he's been employed for the last eight years.
After finishing second in the Northwest League standings to the Faith Bible Falcons, Vernonia beat Gaston 52-49 in the league playoffs. The Loggers (24-5 overall) then beat the Falcons 66-35 in the NWL District Championship game Feb. 18 at Scappoose High School. The Loggers earned a trip to the state tournament after an 85-55 first round playoff home win over the Pilot Rock Rockets on Feb. 25.
Vernonia capped a spectacular season as the coach guided the Loggers (24-5) to fourth place in the 2A boys basketball championship tournament last week at the Pendleton Convention Center. Vernonia lost their opening round in the final eight to Regis by just two points, 38-36, and then bounced back to beat Central Linn by two, 34-32. They won the fourth place trophy with a 46-37 victory Saturday over the Weston-McEwen TigerScots (21-6).
Coach Weller was the youngest coach of the elite eight squads that competed in the tournament at Pendleton. Vernonia reached the tournament for the first time since 1996. Vernonia won two of three games including a 34-32 consolation round win last Friday over the Central Linn Cobras (16-13) to advance to the fourth place trophy contest.
'It's a thrill to get fourth place, especially after having a disappointing loss in our first game,' Coach Weller said. 'This is pretty exciting and these guys earned the trophy. Ever since we started practice back in November, they've been working hard all season, so it's nice to get fourth place. I couldn't be more proud of my two brothers. We've grown together in our relationship. We'll always have some very special memories of this year to look back on for the rest of our lives.'
In Vernonia's March 1 contest versus Regis it was a hard-fought battle throughout the game. Vernonia junior Jesse Edgar sank a jumper from the corner for a 35-27 fourth quarter edge. A momentum-changing 11-1 Regis rally lifted the Rams to the win. In their second game Friday, Vernonia recorded an impressive come-from-behind win over Central Linn after trailing by nine points in the third quarter of the consolation round elimination game.
'We should've won against Regis, because we were the better team,' Coach Weller. 'We missed lots of shots, we let an eight-point lead slip away and scored just five points in the fourth quarter, which isn't enough. The guys were pretty upset about the loss. I was worried about how well they would respond. The challenge was there for them of either playing their last game or moving on in the tournament and playing again Saturday.'
In a seesaw battle against Weston-McEwen, 5-foot-10 guard Byron Weller (7 points, 4 assists) ignited a 9-0 rally overlapping the third and fourth quarters as he scored seven straight points to help the Loggers overcome a 26-17 third quarter deficit.
Byron's brother Craig, a 5-10 guard, fired in a jumper from the free throw line, knotting the score at 26-26. Three tie scores followed, with the last one at 32-32. With time winding down on the clock, Vernonia senior Austin Edgar pumped in a game-winning jumper from the free throw line with 48 seconds left, giving Vernonia a 34-32 advantage.
Craig Weller, Edgar and senior foreign exchange student Pavel Jiranek from the Czech Republic were the Loggers leading scorers all season.
About 400 Vernonia fans traveled to Pendleton to help provide moral and vocal support for the Loggers. Nearly all the fans bought blue tee shirts from the school with the phrase, 'I Love My Loggers' on the front of the shirt. The team returned home Sunday after a five-hour bus ride from Pendleton. Hundreds of fans lined the streets cheering for the team and welcoming them home as the bus was escorted into town by a fire truck. It was a similar situation whena large crowd gathered for asend-off.
'Our original goal at the beginning of the season was to advance to the tournament,' Coach Weller said. 'When we got here, we knew that we could compete with the best teams in the state and we were hoping to make it to the championship game. We had to deal with some adversity though and we were determined to get the next best thing which would be fourth place. It's sure been a lot of fun being the head coach and it's a little different situation when your brothers are on the team. I was a little worried when I first got the job because I was concerned about how well things would turn out, but everything worked out just fine.'