November 19, 2005
Last season, the Hood River Valley boys’ varsity basketball team said goodbye to seven seniors, including four varsity starters. This year the team is young, with only three seniors in the mix. For Tim Chance, Travis Moore and Mark Oppenheimer, this season is one of last chances, as it marks the end of a four-year stint of playing hoops together as Eagles. For the rest of the team, this season is one of opportunity and upward mobility, as Coach Phil Vesel is looking for younger players to step up to the challenge of the varsity experience. And for everyone on the team, this season is one of promise and potential.
According to Vesel, two of the team’s main goals for the season are to be competitive in every game and play to their potential.
With Mt. View, Hermiston and Redmond high schools looking to return strong teams this season, the Eagles should be close in the running for a playoff spot if they can improve upon last season’s 8-15 overall record.
To accomplish their goals, Vesel and the team are working hard in practices to build on last year’s strong points and to eliminate pre-season rust and bad habits.
“We have a shot to be in the mix if we can be more consistent,” said Vesel. “We cannot afford to be up and down. I’d like to see us be consistent from the get go, so we can grow and play our best basketball in conference play.”
A strong point during last season’s 5-11 league showing was the Eagles’ defense, which was second overall in the conference.
“It’s definitely our identity to be a tough defensive team,” said Vesel. “We’re going to be the same this year, while looking to push the ball more offensively.”
To improve upon their offense, the team is working hard on controlling the ball under pressure, passing out of traps and double-teams and executing effective fast breaks.
K.C. Christensen and Tim Chance are the two players who return with the most playing time and will be looked upon for leadership and scoring. With last season’ s go-to-guy, Dennis Methvin, graduated and playing college basketball at Clark Community College, the Eagles will most likely look to sophomore Juan Zuniga to fill the starting guard position. Seniors Travis Moore and Mark Oppenheimer will be in the mix for starting roles and a handful of younger players will be competing for the opportunity to start and get some playing time.
“The lineup is still wide open,” said Vesel. “The kids earn their time and starters earn the right to start. Every year a couple kids surprise me, so I stay open minded about my players. I watch for the kids who are mentally tough and coachable. Those are the players you can trust to do their job in a game.”
Hard work, motivation and coachability seem paramount to Vesel’s coaching philosophy, which is aimed at improving every day, building and bonding as a team and always moving forward toward accomplishing their goals.
“Vesel is a very strong coach,” said Chance. “He keeps us motivated and in a positive state of mind. We’ve had great intensity in practice and the guys are energized and enthused … The team is really starting to click.”
Chance, a multi-sport athlete who recently finished a solid year on the football field, is taking a leadership role on the court this winter, which he says will be his last season as a high school athlete.
“On the court, I’ve tried to play a lot like Dominic (Buttaccio) did … I’m just trying to work hard, help keep the guys motivated and keep up the intensity throughout practice.”
Another important goal for Vesel is to get a solid fan base behind the team.
“We’re hoping that from the beginning we can get fans out to watch us play,” he said. “It’s exciting to watch the kids compete and outwork their opponents.”
The team’s first home game is 7 p.m., Nov. 30 against Forest Grove.