Winter Prep Preview: Coupeville basketball teams get ready for 2016-17 season

As the Coupeville High School basketball teams head into the 2016-17 season, the girls are aiming to capture their third consecutive conference crown while the boys are poised to build upon their winningest season in five years.

Boys Basketball

For the Coupeville High School boys basketball team to repeat the success of last season, new players will have to pick up the slack left by the graduation of eight seniors.

The Wolves won nine games in 2015-16, the highest total in recent years. Only two players, senior Gabe Wynn and junior Hunter Smith, return from last year’s varsity roster.

“We are definitely inexperienced, but that is OK,” coach Anthony Smith said. “We have a good work ethic and just need to diagram a few things up.”

Smith said this year’s group played “really well” at summer team camp at the Western Oregon University and that he is “pretty excited about the maturation of the kids.”

The team is showing steady improvement and should be competitive when Olympic League play rolls around, he added.

“We will just have to throw a few kids into the fire,” Smith said. “We have some role players who need to get acclimated to what is going on.”

Smith, Wynn and junior Hunter Downes, who is up from the junior varsity, should be “our backbone,” Smith said.

Three others who played JV last winter, senior Brian Shank and juniors Ariah Bepler and Cameron Toomey-Stout, should provide valuable varsity minutes this year.

The Wolves won’t be very tall, and Shank and Bepler, who is “a leaper,” Smith said, are over 6-feet tall and will be counted on to handle much of the rebounding.

Shank has a nice shooting touch, according to Smith, and will provide some scoring punch.

Four players who weren’t in the program last year should also help, according to Smith

One, Kyle Rockwell, at 6-foot-3, will provide a big body inside.

“He’s a banger,” Smith said. “He’s raw, so we hope to get him up to speed by conference play.”

Joey Lippo and Ethan Spark, who are rejoining the team after taking time off, and Taylor Consford, a transfer from Oak Harbor, should add depth.

In addition to its work ethic, the team’s strengths, according to Smith, are its ability to run the floor, share the basketball and communicate.

These attributes “should help make up for what we lack,” Smith said.

Coupeville begins the season with two home non-league games before beginning Olympic League action. The Wolves host Blaine Tuesday, Nov. 29, and Sultan Friday, Dec. 2, in a pair of 7 p.m. games.

Then the Wolves hit the road for the conference opener at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, against Chimacum.

Girls Basketball

The two-time defending Olympic League champion Coupeville High School girls basketball team lost just one player from last year’s varsity roster, but that one was a big piece.

Gone is Makana Stone. She twice earned the conference’s Most Valuable Player award and graduated as one of the Coupeville’s greatest scorers and rebounders.

With four starters returning and a batch of new quality players, the Wolves look to overcome the loss of Stone.

“We are moving forward,” coach David King said. “We will miss Makana’s leadership and talent, but the returning players understand it’s their time to take on bigger roles. The players need to realize that the burden to do it all cannot fall onto one player. Everyone will have to pick up the pieces that Makana provided the last four years.”

Returning players include seniors Tiffany Briscoe, Lauren Grove and Kailey Kellner; juniors Kyla Briscoe, Mia Littlejohn, Lauren Rose and Allison Wenzel; and sophomore Lindsey Roberts.

Key newcomers, according to King, are senior transfer Charlotte Langille, junior Mikayla Elfrank and sophomores Kalia Littlejohn and Sarah Wright.

In addition, seven incoming freshmen are bringing “a very positive energy and desire to work hard and win,” King said.

“I believe we have the talent and skill-set to compete again this year for the title,” King said.

He is encouraged by their off-season work: “We had 19 girls at camp this summer playing and 11 participated in a fall league.” Sixteen participated in a recent shooting clinic.

He noted, however, that the other three Olympic League teams have been working as well and they will be “gunning for us.”

To win a third straight crown, the Wolves will need to rebound better, be patient offensively and shoot better, according to King.

It’s time for the program to keep improving, he added. Coupeville qualified for the state tournament last winter but was eliminated in the first round.

“The next step to win a state game would be handling the previously mentioned things,” King said.

King said the Wolves’ strengths are athleticism, competitiveness, selflessness and depth.

“From top to bottom, the drop off, if any, will be very minimal to who starts or who comes off the bench,” King said. “We have seven to nine players who could legitimately be a starter.”

The team’s weaknesses, according to King, are “putting the ball in the basket” and “handling pressure.”

He added, “We allow ourselves to speed up offensively, and that leads to sloppy play. Play knowledge and running them has been an issue.”

Goals this year are to improve the shooting percentages from the field and foul stripe and to be able to increase the defensive pressure.

“Each one of us, players and coaches, needs to compete each day and be willing to put the team first,” he said. “If we do that, it is going to be a successful season.”

Coupeville opens the season at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, at the Sedro-Woolley Jamboree.

The first three games are away. The Wolves go to Blaine at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, then play in the Friday Harbor Tip Off Classic Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2 and 3. At the Classic, Coupeville meets the Seattle Academy at 2 p.m. Friday. The outcome of that game will determine who and when it plays Saturday.

“At the beginning of the season we will need to find our way and continue to find our identity as a team without Makana,” King said. “The players have been working very hard since last season — realizing they are talented and can be a very good team — and now, with the success and experience of last year and the success of the fall teams, we are ready to play as one and continue that success.”