The Chelan girls basketball team advanced to the 1A state quarterfinals a year ago and returns all of its best players for this season.
Brewster came within a couple of minutes of winning the 2B state championship a year ago and returns all of its best players for this season.
Cashmere finished the regular season with a 20-0 record a year ago and returns most if its best players for this season.
Oh, and Okanogan won the 1A state title a year ago and returns most of its best players for this season.
To put it quite simply, this Caribou Trail League season should be one of the most competitive and entertaining in recent memory. It’s rare that a single league can boast four teams with this kind of depth and star power. The CTL will feature two players that have already hit the 1,000-point mark for their careers (Okanogan’s Kara Staggs and Brewster’s Becky Mae Taylor), 15 returning all-leaguers, a player that is getting looked at by prominent college programs (Brewster’s Chandler Smith) and a coach that has won four state championships (Okanogan’s Bryan Boesel).
“I think that four of the top eight teams in the state could be in our league,” said Chelan coach Frank Phelps. “There are some very talented kids and programs. I can’t remember the last time the league has been this deep.”
Every team in the CTL knows that it will have to play to the absolute best of its abilities virtually every night to win. But that’s a challenge that the coaches and players relish; after all, they know that if they’re fortunate enough to advance out of the league and district play to qualify for the state tournament, they’ll be more than battle-tested.
“I’d rather play good, top-quality teams every night anyway,” Boesel said. “That’s the kind of challenge that the girls are looking for. Even the spectators, they pay their $5 or $6 to watch a game, they don’t want to see a blowout.”
Boesel’s squad will once again by led by Staggs, who was named as the 2012 state tournament’s most valuable player. The senior is perhaps the region’s top pure scorer — she can consistently hit the outside shot and use her quickness to drive into the lane at will.
Boesel will surround Staggs with two emerging sophomores — Cameron Moses and Vanessa Vanderweide — and seniors Megan Parks, Kelsey Chiles and Caitlyn Behymer, an all-leaguer a season ago. Freshman Keanna Egbert, a transfer from Lake Roosevelt, will also contribute.
“The toughest part about being a returning state champ is that everybody on your schedule wants to knock you off,” Boesel said. “It’s hard to focus on every game and not have a down night. But I don’t think that’s going to be (problem) this year. The girls are ready to go; they hit the weight room, and are a lot stronger and faster this year, and more confident. It’s obvious that they’re going to do everything they can to get ready to make another run.”
Cashmere was devastated after seeing its perfect season come to an end in the span of five days last season with playoff losses to Okanogan and Freeman, the two teams that played for the state title.
But Cloakey is confident that his squad has the talent to make another deep postseason run, even without the services of star guard Breanne Knishka, who tore two knee ligaments during a summer contest and will miss the entire season. Knishka, who earned all-league honors as a freshman last year, would’ve easily been one of the three best players in the league this year, along with Staggs and Smith.
Cashmere will also be without the services of second-team all-leaguer Mikayla Sites, who suffered a stress fracture and a cyst in her foot last spring, at least for the time being. The Bulldogs have been hit hard by additional injuries early on — they were forced to postpone their Dec. 4 game against Eastmont because they didn’t have enough healthy players.
Cloakey thinks that his team should contend once all of his players return to the court.
“Obviously Breanne is a special player, but we’ve still got firepower,” Cloakey said. “Our expectations haven’t changed from last year, and they were pretty high last year.”
Boesel’s brother, Roger, takes over as Brewster’s head coach. He’ll inherit a squad that will feature Smith, a 6-foot guard that can do a bit of everything, and still has room for improvement; Taylor, an all-league point guard; all-league guard Brette Boesel; and junior wing Monica Landdeck, a transfer from Issaquah who has the abilities to be an immediate contributor.
“I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think we couldn’t compete,” Roger Boesel said. “I welcome the challenge, and I think our girls do too. We’re not going to roll over, I guarantee that. The girls aren’t intimidated by anybody, and they fully expect to win. I like that about them.”
Chelan put together a late-season surge to qualify for state last year, and Phelps is hopeful that momentum will carry over to this season. The Goats will once again go as far as their rebounding and defense takes them, led by a couple of athletic posts — senior Courtney Dietrich and junior Abby Phelps.
“They’re a year older, and stronger,” Frank Phelps said. “They have confidence in themselves that maybe they didn’t have at the start of last year. They have a better understanding of what they need to do. We need to be more consistent offensively, but I think that having that extra year under their belt will make a difference.”
Right now, it’s tough to pick out a clear favorite to win the league title. But one thing’s for sure: Every weekend for the next few months, there’s going to be at least a couple of must-see match-ups.
The CTL is just that good.
“We all know the challenges in our league are bigger than ever,” Cloakey said. “It will be fun.”