WENATCHEE — It’s no secret that a men’s basketball team needs good guard play to win consistently in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges East Region. It’s been that way for years.
Most of the teams in the region prefer to play an up-tempo game, pushing the pace in order to up their possession totals, and feature quick, agile guards that can drive to the basket for layup or free-throw opportunities or pass the ball to open 3-point shooters.
Last season, Wenatchee Valley College didn’t really play that style of game, and the Knights finished in last place in the region with a 6-17 record. Head coach Coby Weidenbach realized that he needed to make some changes for the upcoming season, and that’s exactly what he’s done.
“The East is a guard-oriented (region), and guards are going to thrive,” Weidenbach said. “Last year we were up and down because our best (player) was an inside guy and our guards were young. This year we have leadership at the point guard and wing positions, and more scoring ability that will hopefully push us over the top. We’ve changed philosophies — offensively, we’re going to pick up the pace and attack the basket. Most of the teams that make the playoffs do dribble-drive and push the ball with their guards.”
It’s a good thing for Weidenbach, then, that he has the perfect point guard to deploy in his new offensive scheme. Sophomore Patrick Manning was the team’s second-leading scorer as a freshman, but Weidenbach thinks the Boise native will be even better this year.
“He’s really quick, has long strides and is able to get to the hole a lot, and when he’s open, he can hit the 3,” he said. “He’s a fast, strong kid, and I think that if I built the offense around him and have things run through him, he’ll have a good year. He is a scoring point guard; he’s able to get in the lane, draw defenders, make the pass when he needs to and draw fouls when he needs to.”
Manning is excited to work in the team’s new offense.
“We’ll hang in with the other (teams). Everyone else runs and guns, so we switched it up to run-and-gun, and we’ll fit in there right with them,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of running, but that’s good for us, because we didn’t really do that last year. We’re running, hustling and playing hard. We’re supposed to drive (to the basket) all the time, actually — drive and kick, drive and kick.
“I’m all right at driving,” he continued while trying to suppress a humble smile. “I do a decent (job) of getting into the paint.”
Manning is one of four returning sophomore guards; he’ll be helped out on the offensive end by fellow Boise native Ryan Skurdal, who led the team in 3-pointers made last season. Also returning are wings Colton Ayers, a Tonasket product, and Moses Lake’s Matt Franz.
“Skurdal is a shooter, and everybody knows it,” Weidenbach said. “When he gets it going, he really does get it going. Matt and Colton are slashers; they’re really strong guys, and they can bang a bit inside. To have that kind of rebounding (ability) from the wing will be nice.”
WVC lost its best player from a year ago — post Travis Van Diest averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game and is now playing at Lewis-Clark State College. Seven of the Knights’ 11-player freshman class are big men, including Brock Holubetz, a 6-foot-9 center from Borah High School in Boise.
“We knew we had to replace the size from last year,” Weidenbach said “We’ll continue to be a team that goes inside when we need to, and we’ll rebound well. So far the freshmen have stepped up and filled their roles. (Holubetz) will be our starting center; he won the 5A state title last year at Borah, and he’ll come in and produce right away and fill Travis’ shoes.”
Holubetz is one of four players from the Boise area on the roster. Weidenbach coached in Boise for four years before coming to WVC five years ago and has good connections in the Gem State.
“I’m from there and coached there, so I know those leagues really well,” he said. “In Washington, there are 26 junior colleges; Idaho has two. To be able to get guys from down there has been good for us, but we’d like to have more of a mix of North Central Washington kids. I think to do that we need to prove that we’re a program that’s going to contend for the playoffs.”
The Knights will try to earn a top-four berth out of an always-competitive East Region. Most every year, four teams — Walla Walla, Yakima Valley, Big Bend and Spokane — battle for those top spots, but the Knights are optimistic that they will be able to improve enough to move up into the region’s upper echelon.
“We were there (last year). We just had trouble finishing games,” Skurdal said. “We didn’t really come together. We fell apart midway through the season, started getting mad at each other, and it started to crumble from there. But we just have to stay together as a whole (this year).
(With) the returners we have, and the incoming freshmen, I feel that we should have a pretty good chance of making NWAACCs this year. We have a good coaching staff, and we’re really coming together.”