Young Selah boys basketball team expects to build on success next season

After graduating three starters from last year’s state runner-up team, many people thought the Selah High boys basketball program would take a step back this season. But when you consider how far the Vikings got with just three returning varsity players, they have earned the right to hold their heads high.

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Behind junior standout Noah Pepper, Selah finished second in the CWAC standings, reached the district championship game, won a state regional contest, and challenged eventual state champion North Kitsap until the final buzzer at the Class 2A state tournament.

“Everyone was doubting us in the preseason, and no one thought we’d get back to the SunDome. But we did,” said Pepper, a two-time league MVP who averaged 27.3 points, 13.7 rebounds and five assists per game, all team highs. “We went out and proved everyone wrong, and that’s something we talked about doing from the very beginning of the season.”

While the season didn’t end the way the Vikings had hoped — with a loss to North Kitsap in the first round of the state tournament — they showed so much improvement that the players walked away with a genuine feeling of accomplishment.

“I think we’re pretty satisfied as a team,” Pepper said. “Things didn’t go our way at state, but we gained a lot of valuable experience that will prepare us well for next year. We’re bringing back almost the whole team, so hopefully we can make it even farther.”

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Fellow starters Teegan Garza, John Zambito, Cooper Quigley and Matt Quincy also will be back, along with Shad Smith, Jack Kuhn, Nick Zambito and Levi Pepper (Noah’s freshman brother). Malachi Kinlow and Abyll Requena were the only two seniors on the roster.

Garza (8.3 ppg) and Zambito (7.6 ppg) earned all-conference honorable mention and finished as the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 leading scorers. Quincy slid into the starting lineup early in the season and became a steady scorer in the paint for the Vikings. He also averaged 4.4 rebounds per game, second only to Noah Pepper.

“Matt really grew up this season and he became a reliable finisher inside,” head coach Tim Garza said. “Teegan, John and Cooper also showed a ton of improvement, helping us grow leaps and bounds offensively from game one to 24.”

Sophomore Ryker Wilburn also contributed to this year’s success, but he is planning to transfer schools, Garza said. Kinlow was the Vikings’ sixth man, averaging 4.2 rebounds per game, and he earned his coach’s praise.

“Malachi was a pleasant surprise for us, especially late in the year,” the coach said. “He was great on the boards and also knocked down some key shots in the district tournament.”

Garza said he saw consistent improvement from all of his players, from one through 12, which allowed the Vikings (16-8 overall) to emerge from a hard-fought CWAC season as the No. 2 seed.

They battled league champion Toppenish tough in all three meetings, losing by five twice during the regular season and then 85-77 in double overtime in the Feb. 22 district title game. The next week, Selah rebounded to defeat a stout Renton squad 68-58 in the state regional round at Davis High School.

“That was probably our best team win of the season,” Garza said. “Renton is very athletic and they are relentless on the offensive glass, so we had to concentrate a lot on our rebounding in practice to prepare for them. We also had to take good care of the basketball and play hard-nosed defense for four quarters. We thought that if we could get a late lead, we could close them out — and we did.”

The Viks carried that tenacious approach over to the North Kitsap game in the SunDome on March 4, nearly taking out the would-be champions before falling 65-52. Selah was ahead by one going into the fourth quarter, but a few missed shots and a late run by North Kitsap (also the Vikings) put an end to Selah’s season.

“I thought we executed our game plan really well, but the ball just wouldn’t go in at the end,” Garza said. “But that’s basketball. I was proud of our guys for not giving up against a very good team.”

Now that another season is officially in the books, the Vikings can begin looking ahead to next season. Pepper said he plans to play “a lot” of club basketball in the Seattle area this spring, while the entire team will reunite in June and July for the high school summer league around the Yakima Valley.

Coach Garza knows from experience how valuable the summer league is for building toward the next high school season. But with so many returning players, one thing he doesn’t have to worry about is team chemistry.

“All of the guys get along really well and they are committed to what we’re doing as a program,” he said. “Having a good summer will be the deciding factor next season, and we expect to have everyone on board as we look to keep getting better.”

The rest of the coaching staff — Jake DePell (JV), Tony Hargroves (C team) and Brent Gorrebeck (volunteer assistant) — is also expected to help out this summer, as they have every offseason. Garza said their contributions to Selah basketball shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Jake, Tony and Brent were a huge part of our success this season,” he said. “They did a great job relating to the younger guys, but they also helped balance me out. I really appreciate the work they have done.”

The Viks are hoping their hard work and attention to detail will pay off this summer and, of course, next winter.

“The future is bright,” Garza said. “We’ve got a great nucleus coming back, and we’re going to have a lot more experience as a group. That’s what is most exciting to us, as coaches.”