Six teams were playing on the final day of the 2018-19 season, and — not surprisingly — the Knappa Loggers were one of the final six, finishing fifth at the state tournament.
They'll be there again this season. And this time, the Loggers may be playing in more than just a consolation game on the final day of the season.
“We have all we need to do well again,” said Paul Isom, entering his second year as the Knappa boys basketball coach. “It's just a matter of having some of those younger guys stepping up to fill the spots we graduated.”
Coaches around the state tend to agree, since the Loggers are ranked sixth in a pre-season coaches poll, behind teams such as Western Christian, Toledo, Oakland, Columbia Christian and Santiam.
(Columbia Christian lost last year's state championship game to Western Christian).
It's strictly a two-team race in NWL boys basketball: Columbia Christian and Knappa. No one else was even close last year, and it should be the same this season.
In fact, the top two teams in the Northwest League might just finish as the top two teams in the state. And if all goes well for Knappa, the Loggers may jump the Knights in the league standings.
Private schools often benefit from transfers, but sometimes it works in reverse.
Columbia Christian had two of the top players in the state at the 2A level last season, in sophomores Ben Gregg (the state Player of the Year) and Elijah Munyan. Both have transferred out of Columbia Christian, and are no longer with the Knights.
Still, “even with the pieces they have coming back, they will still be good,” Isom said. “They have some others coming in, so they'll be tough.”
As for the rest of the league, “it doesn't look like there will be any 'gimme's' this year,” he said. “It should be a competitive league.”
Knappa lost key players Timber Engblom and Ty Vanderburg, but the Loggers return seniors Kanai Phillip, Joe Ramvick and Eli Takalo — a trio that could be among the five best players in the NWL.
And among the returners are senior Mason Westerholm and junior Devin Hoover, with junior Cameron Miethe ready to make the jump to varsity, along with sophomores Brandon Gale, Shane McMahan, and Knappa's twin tower brothers, Carter and Logan Morrill, both 6-5-plus.
While the football team was still competing, the Loggers had just 12 players the first week of practice, but the list has since grown to 27.
“We have good numbers,” Isom said. “The football players got in three or four good practices last week, and everybody looks ready. We're just hoping some of those younger kids can step up and fill the roles left by Timber and Ty. Camo (Miethe) may not be as big, but he's the same type of player — a bulldog type guard who has a lot of intensity and really gets after it.
“Overall, we're probably bigger than we were last year,” he said.