It was a short turnaround for the Chewelah Cougar basketball team who played their last football game on Saturday and started basketball practice the following Monday.
After two weeks in the gym, Coach Rocky Verbeck has his 31 players divided into three teams for the quickly approaching 2012-13 season.
Likewise, the Lady Cougars have gotten in two full weeks of practice with 23 girls divided by Coach Tom Skok into two teams to prepare for their opener here this Saturday. The Lady Cougars will not have a C squad team this winter.
The Cougars hoopsters will begin this season with three home games. The first will be against St. George’s this Saturday, December 1. Next, the Deer Park Stags will come here for another non-league encounter on Tuesday, December 4. The girls will play first at 5:15, with the boys following at 7:30.
Then, on Saturday, December 8, Northwest Christian will be here. Those games will begin an hour earlier, with the girls starting at 4:15 and the boys playing at 6:30.
The Cougar wrestlers will also face their first competition this weekend when they battle for medals at the Deer Park Invitational.
Coach Verbeck has placed nine seniors on his varsity squad. All are veteran players and half were members of last year’s varsity team. Returning starters are Derek Smith, Brandon Smith, and Ben Johnstone, along with Caleb Wiebe who was the first player off the bench as sixth man. Joining them are Tommy Norman, Brady Flanagan, Cordell Bean, Springdale transfer Deylin Peone, and German foreign exchange student Lars Berger.
There are 11 players on the junior varsity team and 11 on the C squad.
“With just a couple of exceptions, everyone on the team is about 6’2″ tall,” said Verbeck. “They’re like a row of fence posts.”
With the loss of 6’7″ Andrew Pugh to graduation, there are no players with height in the lineup this season for the Cougar boys.
“We have had good practices,” continued Verbeck. “The kids have come to practice with their football attitude, so they are highly competitive. They like each other, but they also get mad at each other on the floor because they are so competitive. Then, they become friends again after practice.”
Coach Verbeck believes each of the three teams will have a good blend of players. The JV and C squad teams will be made up of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.
The Lady Cougars will return five varsity starters. They are seniors Ryann Richmond, Mikaela Hopkins, Katelyn Garner, and Brittney Wuesthoff, along with junior Sydney Katzer.
Every starter, with the exception of Lavonne Smith, is back.
Also wearing varsity uniforms will be senior Shiloh Schneider, junior Patty Hernandez and sophomores Amanda Pugh, Kaitlin Krouse, and Kara Frederick.
Coach Tom Skok is blessed with guards. He returns three senior guards and a couple of underclassmen. In the front court he has returning varsity players Katzer, Krouse, and Pugh.
“Practices have been very competitive because the younger kids have been challenging the older girls to work harder,” said Coach Skok. “If we can get some fire from these girls, we should be competitive within our league this year. Our second team is competing hard with the first team. I’d even say the second team is pushing the first team. That has made practices very competitive.
“The girls made a lot of progress over the summer, and the younger kids got a lot better playing summer ball. We played Colville twice over the summer and we got a lot better between those two games.
“We will have lots of outside shooters this season. Brittney was our best shooter last year until she got injured. Ryann has been shooting a lot better like she did at the end of the summer. So, we will have kids who can score from the perimeter.
“We will also have some size inside with Kaitlin and Sidney, so we hope to build our inside game this season. Kaitlin is 5’11”. She will make opponents adjust their inside shooting to get over the top of her. She is so much stronger and quicker, and her footwork is a lot smoother. She’s going to make a difference for us on the inside this season.”
With three home games in a row to begin their season, playing in front of a standing room only home crowd would help get this season off to a good start for both varsity basketball teams.
Three state tournament veterans give Coach Patrick Mitchell a nucleus of experienced wrestlers to build a team around this winter. Russell Smith and Adam Collins return as state medalists. Josh Hanley begins this new season as a state competitor.
Smith brought home a fifth place medal from the Tacoma Dome. Collins came home with a seventh medal.
Hanley, Dustin Olson, James Gilreath, and Kyle Connall bring regional level experience to the mat for the Cougars.
The big question going into the season for the Cougars is: Will they be able to fill enough weight classes to be competitive on the scoreboard in league matches?
By Geno Ludwig, The Independent Staff