While the first 6 games have not been the best way to start a season, The Dalles boys’ basketball team is barreling through a tough preseason schedule as it prepares to take on the likes of Pendleton, Hermiston and Hood River in the Columbia River Conference.
Overall, there are seven seniors on the varsity roster, but Coby Conlee and point guard Angel Esiquio have the most floor time of the bunch.
Gordy Harris, Tanner Byers, San Strassheim, Ross Kohl and Irving Piza make up the rest of the senior athletes who are finding their way through a crash course to learn all of the plays head coach Bob Townsend institutes.
“We really have to start from scratch as it relates to our defensive system, and offensive schemes,” Townsend said. “I really like the group of kids though, they are very eager to learn, and have been practicing extremely hard.”
Also on the roster are juniors Colin Noonan, Devin Wilson, Storm Douthit and Colton Walker.
Sophomore guard Eric Flores is the lone underclassman.
So far, the Riverhawks have lost their first six games, but have flashed some abilities at different stretches in games.
In two of those losses, The Dalles scored a season-high 52 points at Ridgeview this past Wednesday, and on Dec. 12 at home, they tallied 42 points against 6A Centennial.
Those two teams have a combined record of 10-2.
At this point in the season, Townsend is not looking at wins and losses to determine how his group is growing as a whole.
Right now, there is a learning curve while he determines roles and teaches the system.
“Our overall athleticism is good this year, and I think we have multiple players at each position that can contribute and push each other in practice,” the Riverhawk coach said. “By January, I think we will be a very good defensive team. We will struggle to score because of our lack of shooters, but our kids can make up for that with good rebounding and defensive efforts.”
The Dalles has averaged 35.1 points a game six games, with Wilson, Esiquio, Conlee, Noonan and Byers shouldering most of the load.
All across the front court, Townsend has one of his bigger teams in recent memory with five players spanning 6-foot-1 inches or taller.
“With our lack of overall shooting, we will need to be able to score consistently in the paint,” Townsend said. “We have a solid group of forward/posts that should be able to contribute this year both in the scoring column and rebounding.”
Townsend speaks highly of the athleticism this team possesses, but in order to best utilize those options a steady point guard is needed.
Esiquio provides those intangibles and passing ability to put the ball in an optimum position for his mates to score.
“In our system, the point guard is very important in making sure we play at a high pace, and can move the ball up court to take advantage of our athleticism in the open court,” Townsend said. “Angel is our best individual defender as well, and will primarily guard the best outside player on the opposing team.”
The Dalles has plenty of preseason remaining to establish cohesion with the Hood River Tournament this weekend and the Wilsonville Invitational from Dec. 29-31.
After that, there are four other non-league games until the start of league play at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 at home against Hermiston.
There are a lot of questions to be answered by many of these programs, but there could be a few dark horses in there.
The top-3 CRC finishers get to punch their ticket to postseason play, so it gives several programs hope.
Townsend said Hermiston will always have a lot of talent, but they lost a lot of players off their league championship team from a year ago.
He added that Pendleton has a few returning starters and should be very competitive and Hood River didn’t lose a single player off last year’s varsity team and should be really improved.
“There really isn’t a dominant team this year,” Townsend said. “I feel confident that we will be able to compete with anyone if we play hard and continue to improve in the preseason. We aren’t close to where we need to be, but the nice thing about our season is that you make the playoffs just by what you do in your league.”
Across the program, from middle school to high school, The Dalles has made some significant gains during the offseason and summer ball.
Townsend said he only expects his athletes to play hard, maintain academic and attendance standards, and represent our program well on and off the court.
“We discuss on the court expectations in the form of what our goals are, and what can each of us do to achieve those goals,” Townsend said. “Our team goal is to make the playoffs. In order to achieve this goal, we need to improve a great deal throughout the season, and I think we can. I’m excited about our chances.”
“We are going to have some difficult times early, and really be challenged physically and mentally, but I like this group and really am enjoying coaching them,” he added.
Action in Hood River for tournament play starts at 5 p.m. tonight versus 6A Madison (0-4).
At 2 p.m. Saturday, the Riverhawks (0-6) hit the court against 5A South Albany (1-4).