PVL boys hoop race could be three-way battle
A year ago, the Colfax Falcons and Placer Hillmen battled down to the wire in sharing the Pioneer Valley League boys basketball championship.
Funny how things can change in a year.
This season, Placer is off to the newly formed Foothill Valley League while Colfax has spun its wheels early on getting off to just a 6-8 preseason start, mostly on the fact that its football team was still in action through the middle of December.
“We probably lost four of five games that we win if we have our whole roster with a regular start,” said Colfax coach Terry O’Keefe. “Instead of 6-8, we could easily be 9-4, but that’s the way it is.”
For local area teams Colfax (6-8) and Bear River (8-6), the Falcons and Bruins look to be facing an uphill task in battling PVL newcomer Marysville and talented Foothill and Center teams for league honors.
This season, the top three finishing PVL teams and teams rated in the top 15 of their respective divisions by Maxpreps qualify for the playoffs.
“We’re excited to be in a new league this season,” said Marysville coach Stan Easter, whose Indians have won 12 preseason games. “We’re expecting a tough, well-balanced league this year.”
Center coach Ray Gagnon, who is retiring after this season, will enter league play this week with 491 combined varsity coaching wins that include 17 seasons at the girls level and the last 12 with Center’s boys.
“I’ve coached for 35 years, including the last 29 at Center,” said Gagnon. “It’s time for the wife and family now.”
Here’s how the PVL boys race should shape up this season:
Foothill has the league’s most talented player in senior guard William Goebel. A driver and slasher, Goebel is also a deadly 3-point specialist.
“He makes everyone around him better,” said Gagnon of Goebel. Foothill, with four sophomores on its roster, will also be sparked by 6-foot-3 forward Traivion Drummer.
The Cougars return nine players from last season’s team, including three starters in point guard Michael Wortham, 6-4 forward Elias Bonds and 6-4 center Daniel Andreyev. Senior captain Henry Oill and sophomore T.J. Fox will also supply key minutes.
The Indians picked up a nice transfer from Yuba City in guard Illyaas Rafiq, who is leading the team in scoring with a 20 points-per-game average. But Easter noted that the Tribe will be without two starters until mid-February because of grade issues. Other players to watch for Marysville include guard Blake Clavelle, 6-3 forward Kameron Klein and 6-2 wing Nate Webb.
Despite their sub-.500 preseason, the Falcons hope to find their stride in league play under leadership provided by returning All-PVL center Max Wolff, returning starter Jake Green and junior point guard Michael LaVigne. The Falcons’ depth, however, will be tested when PVL play opens.
Bear River (8-7)
The Bruins, without a senior on their roster, had some shining moments in the preseason. Top offensive fireworks were supplied by guards Justin Powell and Brekyn Vasquez, forwards Adam Malik and Brad Smith and sophomore pivot Jace Rath.
Bob Jensen, who coached many seasons at Mesa Verde, returns to the varsity reins for the Blazers, who don’t have a player taller than 6-1 and are led by guards Zach Massey (14.8 ppg) and Akili Woodson (9.4).
After a solid preseason that left them as the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section’s top-ranked Division IV squad, the Colfax Lady Falcons look to be favored to garner their first Pioneer Valley League title since the 2013 season.
But according to coach Rich Simpton, first thing’s first.
“We’re playing well going into league but it’s all about improving and being able to stay healthy,” understated Simpton about his team being off to a 13-3 start. “You know there’s stretches where someone could get hurt or illness hits your team. There’s always obstacles.”
Thus far this preseason, the Lady Falcons have looked good in winning tournaments at Piner, Oroville and Mountain House. Colfax also has impressive non-league wins over the likes of Placer and Calaveras, another top rated D-IV team.
Colfax is sparked by junior swing player Grace Bliss, who at 21.4 points a game is currently the section’s No. 11-ranked scorer.
Thus far, the supporting cast around Bliss has been steady as Jazzy Owens, Natalie Lundberg, Aliya McCord and Stella Chavez – all sophomores – have chipped in with strong minutes. Senior Sara Detwiler will also be vital to Colfax’s success.
If anyone is going to challenge the Lady Falcons in the PVL this season, it may be Bear River and Center.
The Bruins (9-6) are basically a young team that has been improving through the preseason while Center (6-5) is led by veteran guard Maylene Hughes, a two-time All-PVL pick.
Bear River’s top players include senior Macey Borchert, junior point guard Gabby Corralejo, Grace Billingsley and Sarah Aanenson. Bear River will open PVL action Wednesday at Colfax.
Center, with Hughes and Ebony Dixon, have played a tough pre-league schedule that includes games with Golden Valley, Sunnyside of Fresno and Hanford West. Veteran coach Jeff Wise is also looking to get production from sophomore post Rachel Boone.
It could be tough sledding in the PVL for the rest of the league as Marysville, Lindhurst and Foothill are a combined 1-34 in non-league games to date.