The Philomath High School boys basketball team will tip off its season Friday night with several players getting in only a handful of practices. The pandemic-influenced approach to scheduling fall, spring and now winter sports over a stretch of just four months has created overlap and at a smaller school like Philomath that relies on multi-sport athletes, that can be an issue.
Blake Ecker, entering his 20th season as head coach, called the situation challenging but he also knows that he has a number of experienced players who can step right in and execute in Philomath’s system.
“It’s been challenging with practice because of the combination of spring and sports. … We’ll have about four full practices before we play our first game,” Ecker said. “Varsity-wise, it’s a little different because a lot of those guys are going to know the stuff we’re running and they’re pretty savvy, so we’ll be OK there. We can really roll a ball out for the most part … and they’re going to know a lot of stuff.”
Senior Michael Lundy and sophomore Ty May headline the list of returning players. Lundy earned first-team all-league and second-team all-state recognition last season. May was a second-team all-league pick, a rare accomplishment for a freshman.
“To have those guys back right there is a huge help,” Ecker said.
Lundy possesses exceptional skill at shooting guard and May’s 6-foot-7 frame gives the Warriors good height around the basket, although he has also been known to pull up for outside jump shots.
May is just in his second year of high school but he’s already having a positive impact on his teammates.
“Ty’s trying to take on more of a leadership role,” Ecker said. “He’s still only a sophomore and to take a leadership role is tough for a sophomore. I think for sure it’ll start coming more naturally next year but he’s trying to do the right thing.”
In addition to May, Philomath has another 6-7 sophomore in Chad Russell.
“He’s physical and strong and he has a ton of potential still to keep getting better,” Ecker said. “He likes basketball a lot and he’s been playing a ton. His offensive skills will keep improving as he gets older and we need him to be more aggressive at the basket, attacking and scoring inside.”
Ecker’s deepest position on the roster is at guard.
“(Cameron) Ordway, (Brody) Bushnell, (Carson) Gerding, (Mark) Grimmer — all those guys are kinda interchangeable,” Ecker said. “it’s almost like a three-headed, four-headed monster-type deal on some of our defenses that we run. It’s exciting to think about that.”
Ecker sees a level of defensive ability that will disrupt opposing offenses.
“I feel bad for the opposing team’s point guard already because they’re like little gnats,” Ecker said. “You want to swat it and it’s like ‘get off me.’ Those guys aren’t any fun to play against because they’re just nonstop on you all the time. It’s good to have on your team, not against you.”
Gerding will open the season unable to play because of an injury he suffered during football season. He missed the entire baseball season and Ecker said he’s not sure “if he’s going to be able to play or not.”
Ecker still sees a lot of upside with his guards.
“I think we have a plethora of guards that are going to be really good and they’re younger, really fast and quick,” Ecker said. “I think we have enough guards in the system that if one of them struggles a little bit on the offensive end, we can plug and play another guy to give the other person a break.”
The Warriors add brothers Chase and Cole Beardsley into the fold this season as transfers out of Crescent Valley. Chase Beardsley is a multi-sport senior and Cole Beardsley comes in as a sophomore. Ecker said they are two players that can come in and have an immediate impact.
Others on the varsity roster include senior Dillon Olsen, juniors Cole Matthews, Isaac Lattin, Caleb Jensen and Logan Carter. A number of those on varsity will also swing down to contribute to the junior varsity.
As of Wednesday, the basketball program had 24 players in the program, which coaches believe can support JV and JV2 teams. Longtime coach Eddie Van Vlack returns as the JV head coach and Aaron Schermerhorn will once again lead the JV2 squad. Trey Ecker, Jack Lehman and Dawson Brattain round out the staff of assistants.
The Warriors, coming off a 20-4 season that included advancement into the 4A state quarterfinals before the playoffs were canceled, will open Friday in their home gym against visiting Woodburn — an opponent that Philomath split with last season. Then it’s off to play Cascade at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Interestingly, Ecker found out earlier this week that the first round of games against Oregon West Conference opponents will not count in the league standings. For the ones that will count, the Warriors get Cascade, Stayton, Newport and Sweet Home on the home floor, while Woodburn and Sisters will be on the road.
For now, Ecker’s just trying to get a practice-deprived team ready for Friday’s opener.
“Practice has been difficult because of the level of play,” Ecker said. “You can go from a second-team all-state guy to a freshman who really hasn’t played a lot. It’s really hard to figure out what we’re exactly doing running plays … So it has been very, very challenging.”
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