The Lions return four starters and should be among the states elite teams

by: VERN UYETAKE - Anthony Mathis returns to the Lions this year and figures to be one of the team's top scorers on a squad that expects to challenge for the state championship.The West Linn boys basketball team is not using words or phrases like “repeat” or “defending champs” this year. To the Lions, this season is its own unique journey and this team is an entirely different entity than last year's squad.

West Linn returns four starters and its top four scorers from last year's team plus a few other key contributors and a talented senior who appears to be healthy for the first time in two seasons.

The Lions don't like to focus on or, in fact, talk at all about last year's successes which saw the team capture a state title, its second in school history. But make no mistake, winning the championship this year is the ultimate goal.

“The guys have worked hard and had a great summer. They're not resting on their laurels at all. It's a group that gets along really well and we're further along in that area than we were last year. This team wants to win the state title and is doing what it takes to get there,” coach Eric Viuhkola said.

West Linn's one graduating senior was Jarrod Howard, a player who provided leadership and a good portion of the team's toughness which carried it down the stretch last year. However, the team has been spending much of its early practices working on its defense.

“We'll get up and down but I think we'll be improved defensively, that's our No. 1 thing right now. I feel like we'll be able to score but if we can play defense and rebound, we think we can beat anybody,” Viuhkola said.

The Lions return post Ryan Shearmire, a senior who Viuhkola says has made huge strides since last spring where he was already one of the better players in the state.

“He's a kid with a 3.99 GPA and he came to us last year and said he wants to make basketball part of his future,” Viuhkola said.

Hayden Coppedge is also back and is as healthy as he has been to start the basketball season after wrapping up the football season as West Linn's quarterback.

“He's come to us the past couple of years with a bad back and a bad wrist. I think the offensive line did a good job protecting him this year,” Viuhkola said.

Dynamic scorer Anthony Mathis is also back for his junior campaign and Viuhkola has lauded his improved decision making on the court.

And sophomore point guard Payton Pritchard returns as well, looking to establish himself as one of the top players at that position in the state.

“Payton is extremely skilled but he just has a different gear this year and his athleticism has improved,” Viuhkola said.

West Linn should also benefit from the return of CJ Sitton, a physical presence with a soft outside shooting touch. Sitton has been besieged by a rash of injuries over the past two years but, despite an early concussion, appears ready to make a big contribution.

Guard Ty Cleland has also made strides in the offseason and provided the Lions with a spark off the bench last year. Kevin Edwards also put in some clutch minutes for West Linn last winter and will be battling for a starting spot this year.

Sophomore Will Mathiessen should also see an expanded role and Viuhkola is excited about his future.

Cody Coppedge and David Pulaski were each standouts on the Lions' JV squad last year and will give the varsity team added depth this season along with seniors Matt Wright and Elijah Grant.

“From top to bottom its the deepest and most talented team I've had at West Linn,” Viuhkola said. It also puts him in a tough position of finding playing time for so many deserving athletes.

West Linn will certainly enter the season as one of the more experienced and talented teams in the state and the team has been doing a lot of individual work with players in practices.

The Lions will take on a daunting preseason schedule, seeing some of the top teams in the state and potentially the country.

West Linn opens up against Tualatin at home on Dec. 10 and will then face powerhouse Jefferson in a highly anticipated early season tilt.

The Lions will then play in a tournament in Hawaii featuring some nationally ranked prep teams and they will play in the annual Les Schwab Invitational at Liberty High School after Christmas.

West Linn will be plenty battle tested heading into league play and the TRL will feature plenty of challenges as well.

Despite graduating much of its team last year, Lake Oswego received a star transfer point guard from Milwaukie. Lakeridge returns a strong squad and also benefited from a standout transfer and Clackamas is also expected to be very talented and well-rounded.

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