Boys Basketball Preview: Northwest Corner

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Cowapa League

For the first time in the better part of a decade, the road to the 4A title no longer runs through the Cowapa. No longer is the preeminent team, or ‘teams’ as has been the case for the better part of the last decade, part of the Cowapa. The center of the 4A basketball universe now resides much further south than the cozy confines of the northwestern-most reaches of Oregon. This isn’t to say no Cowapa teams are in the hunt for the title, but the days of Seaside v. Banks running the show seem to be over, and likewise, the days of Valley Catholic having its hand on the wheel seem like a distant memory. 

The league is not entirely out of the picture, but it will have to exceed expectations for there to be Cowapa representation in the latter stages of the championship chase. Here are our biggest questions: 

  • Is the roster turnover at Banks or Seaside not as bad as we perceive it to be? Does either of those top tier coaches, Marc Roche or Bill Westerholm, respectively, have the pieces to get to Forest Grove? The turnover at Banks doesn’t seem to be as impactful as that of Seaside, but the departure of Jacob Slifka would be nonetheless massive for any team. Essentially, does either of the perennial powers have what it takes to still be in the conversation? 
  • Tillamook, despite having some surprisingly close games last year with the likes of Philomath, Gladstone, and even Banks in one contest, could never consistently hold their own against the ‘big boys’ of 4A basketball and got blown out even on their home floor. Similarly, Valley Catholic nearly beat Gladstone as well early in the season and even beat North Marion, but they just couldn’t seem to get over the hump in league play. Tillamook returns their pair of All-League players, Marshall Allen and Trask Petersen, as does Astoria with Colton McAster and Alex Marincovich. The league seems primed for someone new to take a hold in the Cowapa; the question is: is anyone up to it?

Cowapa League Projected Final Standings (BOLD – Playoff Berth)

  1. Banks
  2. Seaside
  3. Tillamook
  4. Valley Catholic
  5. Astoria

Coastal Range League

The CRL was, for lack of a nicer term, bad last year. Warrenton, as much as we thoroughly enjoyed watching them, wouldn’t have made the playoffs had they been in any other league. No CRL team finished above 16th in the rankings, and the median of the league, third place Willamina, finished 29th. Rainier was the only CRL team with a winning record. Simply put, the CRL was not very deep, but there is hope for an improved level of competition this year. Here’s why:

  • Rainier has arguably their biggest piece coming back: Kenny Tripp. An unresolved coaching vacancy doesn’t allow us to completely project Rainier’s ceiling, but because of Tripp and the returning talent around him, it’s reasonable to put the Columbians in the top two.
  • Willamina returns the most seniors in the CRL and will have seven juniors off the 2019-20 varsity roster return. If Rainier doesn’t click, or Willamina booms, the Bulldogs could end up winning the league outright. 
  • Below these two, there’s almost nothing rock solid to go off of. Places 3-5 in the CRL are nearly impossible to even talk about because so much is in flux.

Coastal Range League Projected Final Standings (BOLD – Playoff berth)

  1. Rainier
  2. Willamina
  3. Clatskanie
  4. Warrenton
  5. Taft

Lewis and Clark League 

Virtually any LCL game this year will be must-watch basketball not only because the reigning champs, OES, will be on their title defense tour, but because the competition level overall in the league has increased dramatically. Here’s what we see:

  • There’s a lot of chatter about DLS regressing significantly. Yes, Ubedei McGautha does return. Yes, James Broadus II is still coaching the Knights. But there is so much roster turnover on this roster, most notably the departure of George Sadi, that for the first time in a long time, the Knights aren’t the preordained champions of the LCL.
  • In fact, they might not even be guaranteed second. Portland Adventist quietly had a very productive season in 2019-20, and by the middle of February were one of the hottest teams in the state. The Cougars knocked off DLS in their last regular season game of the year and came within a point of knocking off Riverdale in the league playoffs and getting a chance to knock off OES. Returning All-League Forward Andrew Vaughn is the focal point of the six returning seniors, and if the trajectory holds and the matchup with DLS ends up being as favorable as we think it is, PAA could compete for that second automatic spot … 
  • But the second automatic spot, not the first automatic spot. That belongs to someone else: Westside. Yes, the perennial “eventually they’ll pop” team in the LCL finally will pop. Multiple high profile transfers and development of in-house talent, paired with one of the best young coaches in the state, David Henry, will make Westside one of the biggest stories in 3A this season. Their ceiling is at a championship level, and it’s very easy to see them reaching Coos Bay as a top-four seed. The long build at Westside since Coach Henry’s arrival in 2015 is finally going to reach the state’s highest stage, and that includes being the favorites in the LCL.
  • There’s going to be a fight for #4. Riverdale, Catlin Gabel, and reigning champion OES all have arguments to make and each return all-league talent. Riverdale brings back multiple system pieces that should keep them in the hunt for a playoff berth, and there’s an in-house confidence that goes even beyond that. OES, despite being ravaged by graduation, still has Charles Wilmott, Coach Ed Kirk, and the mystique of being the reigning champs. Catlin has chatter around them as being a possible trap team in this league, and we’re inclined to believe it. The #4 spot in this league will be comparable to the competition for #2 in the Oregon West Conference last season.

There are no bad matchups in this league. Even a game between Horizon Christian and Westside, despite the perceived gap between them, could be must-see basketball because of Horizon’s rebuild. There’s already chatter about the Hawks coming back to high level competition in the near future.  

Lewis and Clark League Projected Final Standings (BOLD – Playoff Berth)

  1. Westside
  2. De La Salle
  3. Portland Adventist 
  4. Riverdale
  5. Catlin Gabel
  6. OES
  7. Horizon

Northwest Conference 

As we’ve said before, some leagues are consistent and some aren’t. The NWC is consistent and, this year won’t change that. Here’s what we see:

  • Knappa is at the top of the heap again. The Loggers bring back Second Team All-State guard Devin Hoover, which alone could win them the NWC. There will be a flavor of youth outside Hoover on the roster, as Knappa only brings back one other junior off the previous varsity roster, but with such a large incoming junior class, Knappa could be one of the deepest teams in the state come playoff time.
  • Columbia Christian brings back a pair of their own All-State players in Mo Hartwich and Freddy Jackson. A return to Pendleton shouldn’t be out of the question for the Knights, and that might become the expectation depending upon how they start.
  • Below the two perennial powers, like most leagues this year, the picture gets cloudy. The consistent development of the Faith Bible program could bring them into the fold, while the steadiness of Mannahouse’s program will likely keep them near the top as well. There isn’t, as we’ve said with other leagues, a lot of solid things from which to project.

Northwest Conference Projected Final Standings (BOLD – Playoff Berth)

  1. Knappa
  2. Columbia Christian
  3. Mannahouse Chrsitian
  4. Gaston
  5. Faith Bible
  6. Neah-Kah-Nie
  7. Portland Christian
  8. Nestucca
  9. Vernonia

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