When it comes down to who had the biggest impacts on their respective teams, two area boys basketball players sat above all others: Centralia senior forward Landon Kaut and W.F. West senior forward Dirk Plakinger — who are The Chronicle’s 2021-22 All-Area co-MVPs.
Other than each being the undisputed senior leaders of their squads, they both are 6-foot-4, have similar builds and weight and are both known for their vicious attacks at the rim. The main difference is how they finish.
Kaut is known for his repertoire of crafty finishes in the paint, slashing to the paint and taking advantage of opposing defenses with his nearly-unstoppable — and lightning quick — spin move under the bucket that more often than not found the net.
“It’s a really nice thing to see,” Kaut said of winning all-area co-MVP.
Plakinger made his name above the rim, known around the league and southwest Washington as a high-flier — one of the best in Bearcats’ history. All it took was one seam and Plakinger would slash toward the rim and throw down a thunderous, crowd-pleasing dunk.
“I always wanted to be (all-area MVP), but I had no idea that I’d come this far and play great this year — and be getting MVP with Landon,” Plakinger said.
Plakinger would go on to earn first-team all-2A Evergreen Conference honors this year before helping the Bearcats advance to the regional playoff round — finishing one win short of a trip to the state tournament in Yakima.
Plakinger, who has been playing basketball since third grade when he joined the Running Rebels youth hoops team, said it took some time to adjust to the influx of new guys this season after losing a large senior class of seven from the previous year.
Though the Bearcats had eight seniors on varsity this year, many of them were swing guys or on junior varsity last season, so everyone had to learn how to play together on the fly.
“We really didn’t know each other that well, even though we’re in the same grade because we kind of are spread out,” Plakinger said. “ And we were able to come together and kind of build this family that we had for the team — and play together as a team.”
Plakinger would go on to lead the Bearcats with 18.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, three assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. He had 11 20-plus scoring games and capped his career with an impressive 32-point performance in a regional-playoff loss to Franklin Pierce.
Kaut, meanwhile, and his Tigers’ squad didn’t see the postseason success Plakinger and the Bearcats had.
Though the Tigers lost just three seniors from the previous year, three juniors decided not to play and underclassmen turnout was low — leaving Centralia undermanned in a highly-competitive EvCo.
Still, thanks to Kaut’s scoring skills, the Tigers ended up winning twice as many games as the previous season, finishing 6-11 on the year with no district playoff berth.
Kaut tore up the EvCo nonetheless, leading The Chronicle’s coverage area in scoring with 23.8 points per game. He had five games of 30-plus points this season, highlighted by a career-high 38-point performance against Hoquiam on Dec. 3, 2021.
Kaut would go on to earn first-team all-EvCo honors, and capped his high school career at home on Ron Brown Court — named fittingly after his grandfather. Kaut went out with a 36-point explosion, including 17 of 19 from the charity stripe.
What he’ll remember most about this season is his teammates.
“Just the chemistry with the team,” Kaut said. “We did a lot of stuff off the court as well. A lot of fun at team dinner and stuff like that. So it was awesome.
Eight other local hoopers also nabbed all-area recognition, with players from Class 1B to Class 2A making the roster. The list includes fleet-footed guards who control the tempo, lengthy wings who can shoot and defend and gargantuan big-men who create headaches for opposing teams.
Soren Dalan, junior, W.F. West
Maybe the most imposing inside force in The Chronicle’s coverage area, Dalan averaged a 14.2-point, 13.9-rebound double-double over the course of the season to go along with three blocks per game. Dalan had five 20-plus rebound games and notched a career-high 23 rebounds twice in 2021-22.
James Grose, sophomore, Napavine
A nifty scorer, the sophomore slasher averaged a team-high 20 points per game for the Tigers, en route to a top-four finish at districts and a state berth.
Josh Salguero, junior, Morton-White Pass
The 6-foot-7 Salguero was perhaps the top big-man in Class 2B, leading MWP to a top-five finish at state and a district championship appearance while averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Gary Dotson, senior, Morton-White Pass
Alongside Salguero, the senior forward averaged a team-high 16.7 points and seven rebounds, helping the Timberwolves finish second at districts and take home a fifth-place trophy at the state tournament in Spokane.
Eddie Klatush, sophomore, Oakville
The volume Acorn shooter had an area-high 51 points this season in a single game, and led Oakville to a regional round berth, averaging 23 points, 5.4 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. Klatush was also named the 1B Coastal League MVP and had seven games over 20 points.
Luke Brewer, junior, Tumwater
Brewer led the Thunderbirds to their highest finish at the state tournament in nearly five decades, and was the 2A Evergreen Conference’s MVP, averaging 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, four assists, and 1.9 steals per game. The junior sharpshooter also drilled 73 3-pointers at a 40% clip from distance.
Braeden Salme, sophomore, Adna
One of the Pirates’ lead guards, Salme was Adna’s most consistent scorer, averaging 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists en route to a state berth and a top-three finish at districts.
Keith Olson, senior, Napavine
Another dominant big man, Olson averaged 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game for the Tigers, helping them earn yet another state berth and a top-four finish at districts. He broke the school record by going 15 of 15 from the field in a win over Mabton — and finished with an absurd 79% shooting from the field on the year.