Saturday, May 18, 2024

Basketball in the Valley

Give me three. Ethan Davis, a junior at Cascade High School and one of the boys' basketball captains, sinks a three-pointer in front of Omak's bench. The Cascade Kodiaks' first home game was played against Omak with CHS showing off the new starters for this year's team. The Kodiaks fought hard throughout the game. This year is bringing a new coaching staff to both boys' and girls' basketball at the high school. Is this what the Kodiaks need to start winning?
Give me three. Ethan Davis, a junior at Cascade High School and one of the boys' basketball captains, sinks a three-pointer in front of Omak's bench. The Cascade Kodiaks' first home game was played against Omak with CHS showing off the new starters for this year's team. The Kodiaks fought hard throughout the game. This year is bringing a new coaching staff to both boys' and girls' basketball at the high school. Is this what the Kodiaks need to start winning?
COURTESY OF BENJAMIN JEROME
Posted

LEAVENWORTH - Locals like to off-handedly joke about Leavenworth’s status as a “soccer town” and they’re not wrong. Soccer has dominated in the valley – the number of select teams and participation in the fall and spring recreation leagues at the youth levels combined with the performance of the Cascade High School girls and boys teams help to support this statement. However, a recent revitalization of basketball in the area may have locals changing their tune.

During the 1990s, team sports, including the basketball program, regularly won league championships and competed at state. Since that era, many team sports have seen a decline in their records. During the 2022-2023 season, for the Cascade High School girls' basketball team, there were not enough participants to support a JV team, and the Varsity team was comprised of only six members.

In a dramatic turnaround, this year, the girls are boasting full rosters at both levels, the boys' team made cuts for the first time in recent history, and the high schoolers aren’t the only ones who are seeing increased interest in this sport. The local youth league, Leavenworth Youth Basketball (LYB), has seen increased involvement both in the number of players and the offering of more competitive play.

In the last decade or so, Leavenworth has not been known for the prowess of their team sports. In the 1990s, however, Cascade High School had promising teams in almost all of its team sports . In that era, many sports won league championships and made it to the State Championship. Currently, though, the Cascade basketball program is focused on development.

Some of that development starts long before high school. The earliest opportunity offered in the Leavenworth area is through the LYB program overseen by Ame Rieke and facilitated entirely by local parent volunteers. Through this program, girls as young as first grade can engage in a skills-and-drills style of basketball program. 

Leavenworth Youth Basketball also runs a local recreational league in conjunction with Eastmont Parks and Recreation. This program, which runs from early November to late December and is offered to students grades 3-6, currently serves around 80 athletes. Here, young basketball players can engage in practices each week and play, always in East Wenatchee, each weekend.

Cascade Kodiak Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is also overseen by Rieke and is under the purview of Leavenworth Youth Basketball. Last year, Leavenworth had three AAU teams: a 3rd-grade girls' team, a 5th-grade girls' team, and a 7th-grade girls' team. This year, however, the program has grown substantially: there have been five new teams added, four of which will service young male athletes in the area. 

As individuals, these basketball players will benefit from the extended season and more competitive game play that characterizes AAU ball. As a program, the growth of AAU should mean more competitive games at the middle and high school levels.

The excitement for AAU ball really began when Amy’s husband, Micah Rieke, who formerly coached basketball at Icicle River Middle School and Cascade High School, began to coach for AAU and his own children, both of whom play as members of his teams.  

“We would take the one to two teams per grade level and then we would flip that into an AAU team and play in a couple AAU tournaments after the first of the year,” he said. 

Under Coach Rieke’s direction, the 8th grade AAU team has gone 6-2 this year, plans to participate in eight more tournaments after the first of the year and has qualified for the Washington State tournament.

As children age out of Leavenworth Youth Basketball in 7th grade, the Cascade School District takes over. At Icicle River Middle School, players participate in a short 10-game season. Todd and Paul Fraker coach boys at grades 7 and 8 respectively.  The 7th grade girls are coached by Terry Muscutt and Isabelle Auty, and 8th grade girls play for Sia Haberberger and Todd Fraker.  This program gives students the opportunity to further develop skills as they play organized basketball against other local schools.

The middle school boys' season has already wrapped up, and the 8th grade team boasted two wins: one against Orchard Middle School in Wenatchee and the other against Endeavor Middle School in Moses Lake. League games will begin for the girls in January and IRMS is hopeful that, given the previous experience in AAU these players have, the season will be successful.

The level of competition and difficulty of play increases once athletes reach high school. There are “[a] lot more games and practices,” said Gene Witt, who played at IRMS last year and is a JV player for Cascade this season. Audrey Slatta, a swinger for CHS JV and varsity, explained that “[t]he main difference between middle school and high school is more pressure.”

Both the boys and girls teams at the high school basketball have seen drastic changes in coaching staff this year. For the boys, Coach Lance Campbell and junior varsity/assistant head coach Isaac Cortez, an alumnus from CHS, are new to the program. 

Campbell brings previous coaching experience at the youth level and a record-setting high school career to the boys’ team. At Lynden Christian School, Campbell played throughout high school, went to state, and was the MVP for his team. He is a recent addition to the Leavenworth Valley, having sold his veterinary practice in Mount Vernon prior to COVID and moving into the area this past summer. 

Coach Cortez brings his own experience as a high school ball player and experience coaching in the local rec league as he guides the high school boys. “I want[ed] to coach this year to give back to the program that gave so much to me at the time,” said Cortez. “I felt like it was something very much needed to be here and to give back as much as possible.”

The girls’ team also has new staff: head coach Cody Bench and assistant coach/JV coach Lauren Hecker. Cody Bench, also a CHS alumnus, played basketball for Eastern Washington University and coached at Wenatchee Valley College, Eastern Washington University and the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

“I really enjoy being a part of a team and motivating young women,” said Bench. “It has opened up a lot of opportunities for me to be around a lot of different kinds of people all over the country.” 

The girls plan on building up the team by forming good relationships with each other and the coaches. “We grow in our commitment level, our energy, and our tenacity so that when it comes to the game, we are there to play,” said Bench.

The record at the high school level this season has not been what the coaches and players may have hoped; however, everyone is seeing improvements and with the growth of the entire program from first grade to the high school level, there are sure to be wins in the near future.

The next Cascade Basketball home game will be against Chelan with girls varsity starting at 5:30 p.m. and boys starting at 7 p.m.

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