The Selah boys basketball team hasn’t been at full strength all season, but that hasn’t seemed to matter much as the Vikings find themselves tied for second place in the CWAC through 10 league games.
Despite some inexperience and two early-season injuries to junior Shad Smith and freshman Levi Pepper, Selah has been in every game, losing only to undefeated Toppenish and fourth-place Prosser. After beating Quincy on. Jan. 11, the Viks sit at 8-2 in league and 8-4 overall.
(Jan. 25 update: Heading into a Jan. 31 matchup with Grandview, Selah is tied with Prosser for second place in the CWAC at 10-4.)
“Our biggest concern coming into the season was our lack of experience, but we’ve been building confidence with every game and our guys are starting to feel more relaxed,” said head coach Tim Garza, who returned only three players with varsity experience from last year’s 2A state runner-up squad — one who broke his wrist in the first game (Smith).
A big reason for the Vikings’ strong start has been the play of junior Noah Pepper, last year’s CWAC Player of the Year. Garza said he has been impressed with Pepper’s play on the court, but also his ability to lead.
“Noah has done a great job of including his teammates and trusting them,” the coach said. “He knows we need some other guys to score if we’re going to be successful, and they are starting to knock down more shots when he gets them the ball.”
The Vikings appear to be finding their offensive stride over the past two weeks, putting up a season high 100 points against Wapato on Jan. 4 and 81 points against Quincy on Jan. 11.
Helping Pepper shoulder the scoring load have been senior Malachi Kinlow, junior John Zambito and sophomore Cooper Quigley — the only other player with previous varsity experience.
Also playing important roles for the Vikings over the first two months have been senior Abyll Requena, and juniors Teegan Garza (the coach’s son) and Matt Quincy. Senior Jon Watkins and sophomore Ryker Wilburn have also provided a lift for the Viks, whose starting lineup is all underclassmen.
“We have nine new faces on the roster this year and we’re fairly young,” coach Garza said. “It’s been a process for us to keep getting better every game, and I believe we have. We’re a much different team now than when we lost to Toppenish (on Dec. 13).”
While the Vikings’ offense has slowly been coming around, their defense has been a hallmark over the first 12 games. Even when shots aren’t falling, Garza’s troops have managed to slow down their opponents.
“Defense has been our strong point so far,” he said. “Even when we’re not shooting the ball very well, our defense has kept us in games.”
While most of the roster hadn’t played at the varsity level before this season, the players had excelled on the JV team. The coach pointed to players like Zambito, Quincy, Requena and Teegan Garza who are making the most of their opportunities after paying their dues at JV.
“These guys have come a long way, and it’s been fun to see their growth,” coach Garza said. “We’re slowly increasing our offensive production, and we will continue to get better as we get ready for the playoffs.”
Garza added that everyone on the roster has been pushing themselves in practice as they look to maintain the program’s lofty accomplishments of the past four seasons.
“One thing I can say about this group is that they have a great work ethic,” said Garza, whose team also reached the 2A championship game in 2017. “We’ve built something here, and it’s really important to our guys to continue that tradition.”