Chronicle prep basketball preview: Order and unknown in the 2A Evergreen

On the girls’ side of the EvCo, it’s the old favorites back for another round. On the boys’, there’s a whole lot yet to be discovered


Editor's Note: This story is included in The Chronicle's 2023-24 Prep Basketball Preview, which is published in the Thursday edition. 

The 2A EvCo isn’t nearly on the level of the Pac-12 in terms of dramatic conclusion, to be sure. But with reclassification looming, and with the possibility of multiple departures and maybe even a new player or two, the 2023-24 season does have an air of, if not finality, at least an impending change from one act to another.

With that backdrop on the stage, it’s time for the hoopers to take the court. But the settings beyond that split widely shifting between the girls’ and boys’ games, with one bringing back the same cast of characters and the other welcoming a whole new lineup of emerging stars to the show.

Another round for the girls

Just about everybody in the 2A EvCo could see how W.F. West and Tumwater were on yet another collision course last season, and after the Bearcats and Thunderbirds split their regular-season matchups, just about everyone in the north of District 4 could see the writing on the wall for a rematch in the district title game.

The only out-of-place thing about it was that everyone had to drive all the way down to Hudson’s Bay to see it.

Tumwater ultimately won that matchup in Vancouver to take the district crown, and both teams went on to Yakima, where neither placed.

But one thing suspiciously scarce in that game, between two sides who had combined to beat their previous opponents in the tournament by an average of over 21 points per game, was seniors. Seven of the 10 starters from the district championship are back — three from Tumwater, four from W.F. West, with the Bearcats set to return a fifth who was injured at the time.

So line them up again, this winter could be yet another run at each other for the two perennial favorites, who already know each other so well.

It is definitely helpful knowing that you’ve played somebody and you’re not going in completely behind the 8-ball,” WFW coach Kyle Karnofski said. “It’s big to have an idea of what their game is about, and when you talk about the things they do, your girls understand the terminology and the style they play.”

For the Bearcats, it all starts and finishes, once again, with 6-foot, 3-inch center Julia Dalan. Now a junior, Dalan can now only re-set her own single-season program records for points, points per game, double-doubles and blocks, and with just under two full seasons left in her career, is already in the top 10 in career points.

But between that start and end, there’s a whole lot in the middle for Karnofski to work with, and most of it has a whole lot of experience. Beside Dalan, W.F. West brings back one all-EvCo first-teamer, one second-teamer, and two honorable mentions. Amanda Bennett is back running the point. Lena Fragner and Grace Simpson return on the wings. 

And most encouragingly, Carlie Deskins just returned last week, after missing nearly a year with a torn ACL.

“She just adds depth and leadership,” Karnofski said. “She’s been here for four years … She’s been the energizer bunny off the bench, she’s been a big contributor as a starter. She just does a lot for us, you can’t put into words all she does as a leader.”

Tumwater has a similar boost coming into this season. After averaging 13.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 steals and 4.3 assists per game — including a spell taking on a greater role with leading scorer Kylie Waltermeyer hurt — point guard Regan Brewer suffered a torn ACL of her own, sidelining her for the State tournament.

Now, Brewer is back as a senior, and didn’t take long to make a splash, dropping 36 points and 13 rebounds in a season-opening overtime win over Washougal.

It’s super cool to see when a kid can do that,” Karnofski said.

Tumwater also returns two second-team all-EvCo pieces in Rhylee Beebe and Kendall Gjurasic, and Zoe Fields, Sydney Sumrok and Morgan Simmons all played significant minutes as sophomores.

“They have some young girls who have grown, we have some freshmen coming in,” Karnofski said. “It’s going to be interesting. I think Nate does a good job up at Tumwater; he’s going to scheme for us and we’re going to scheme for them. It’s the Tumwater/W.F. West matchup that’s been there for a few years.”

Of course, there’s a lot of basketball to be played between now and any sort of standings being finalized. And this year, a season removed from the Bearcats and T-Birds being the only two EvCo teams with league point differentials significantly over zero, a third player may just be emerging in Thurston County.

Black Hills brings back its entire starting five, led by Kiley McMahon, who earned second-team all-league honors after averaging over 15 points per game as a sophomore. Joining her in returning are a host that includes Amanda Aybar and Kayla Patti, who both averaged over five points per game in a 6-13 season.

As important as the experience for the Wolves is their newcomers, who aren’t the average wide-eyed freshmen. After setting the Black Hills record for kills in the fall as as senior, 2A EvCo volleyball Player of the Year Ashley Harris is lacing up the basketball shoes this winter, and fellow senior Tyler Venable has already come in with authority, breaking double figures in each of Black Hills’ first five games — all decisive wins.

I think they’re definitely in the mix as well,” Karnofski said.

Rochester is the only team other than Tumwater or W.F. West to return a first-team all-league talent, in Delany Winter, and the Warriors bring back three other starters from the team that made the district pigtail last year.

In Centralia, second-year coach Austin Danielson has three returning starters of her own, in Gracie Schofield, Brooklyn Sprague and Makayla Chavez.

Last season was a story of two goliaths head and shoulders above the rest of the league, which comprised five teams struggling for two spots. This time around, the early odds are heavy on a repeat, with the field out to challenge another year of W.F. West and Tumwater dominance.

And at the end of it all, we won’t even have to go to Vancouver, with the district title tournament ending in Kelso this winter.

“If we’re in a district title, we’ll play it wherever,” Karnofski said. “Doesn’t matter to me.”

The blank slate for the boys

Last season saw the Tumwater boys basketball team run the table in the EvCo as start-to-finish favorites with just two league wins coming by fewer than 20 points.

This time around, who knows? The T-Birds might just repeat as champions. But if they do, they’ll do so as a completely different squad than last year.

The Class of 2023 was one of the most decorated in Tumwater history, but it was also one of the deepest, with seven seniors, including the entire starting five. The Thunderbirds scored 312 points between the regional round and the state tournament; all but two were scored by players who have since graduated.

Gone is EvCo MVP Luke Brewer and first-team all-league guard Andrew Collins, who left as Tumwater’s record-holders in 3-pointers and field-goal percentage, respectively. So is Tanner Brewer and Gunnar Harroun in the post, and Luke Reid and Connor Hopkins and Brayden Oram on the outside. 

Then again, the T-Birds aren’t alone in their turnover. Just about the entire EvCo is going through it as well.

The only returning first-team all-leaguer is Tyler Klatush, who suddenly has to take on a leading role for the Bearcats with 6-foot, 10-inch star center Soren Dalan now playing in college. Behind Klatush, there are three second-team all-league players and five honorable mentions back for another year.

The 2A EvCo girls lineup seems predictable because of an overlap between talent and experience. The boys are the opposite. Traditional powers — Tumwater, W.F. West, Black Hills — are being forced to replenish on the fly, while the teams with the least retooling to do are Centralia, Shelton and Aberdeen.

“It kind of feels like it might be a little more open,” Centralia coach Kyle Donahue said. “I think there are a lot more question marks going into the year, league-wise.”

Despite the loss of Dalan, W.F. West has a lot coming back in terms of manpower. Along with Klatush, coach Chris White gets the services of Braden Jones, Gage Brumfield and Parker Eiswald for another year, with Lucas Hoff and Grady Westlund set to factor more in the rotation as well.

The story for the Bearcats will be the shift to a smaller, more guard-focused lineup, and the search for someone else to take on the main man mantle. So far, six separate W.F. West players have cracked double figures this season, a good sign for a more multifaceted offense.

Black Hills, which beat the Bearcats twice to finish second behind Tumwater in the league standings — and came a game short of the state tournament — has a similar retooling task at hand, with powerful forward Keagan Rongen and point guard Johnnie Stallings both graduated, along with Harrison Pilon, who emerged as a sharpshooter toward the end of the season.

That leaves Simon Nysted — who was second-team all-league last year — and Jack Ellison as Jeff Gallagher’s lone returning starters. The Wolves’ Morrill twins — Talon and Quinton — are a year older and ready to slot into the rotation, and Black Hills brings in a bit of a wild card in freshman James Morgan, who’s already set to play a big role in his first season.

Then, of course, there’s still Tumwater. Clay Morgan — the only returning player who scored in Yakima last season — and Bryce Morgan have led the way in the scoring department early on, with Nolan Campbell and Reis Howell completing a quarter of seniors for the T-Birds. Behind them is a veritable army, with Josh Wilson bringing a roster 12 deep.

Among the depth for Tumwater is 6-foot, 6-inch post Henry Wilson, and Sahara Anthony and Landon Anchors, who have already proven they can light it up from range.

“They've got a nice thing going, a lot of good athletes, and a seasoned JV that's gonna come in and make a difference right away,” White said. “I think they're the team to beat."

If there’s experience in the EvCo, it’s in Centralia, where the Tigers bring back just about every piece of their lineup from last season. Now, the questions is where Kyle Donahue’s team can turn that experience into success. Key in the answer will be 6-foot, 5-inch center David Daarud, who do to all the graduations elsewhere, is suddenly one of the two most veteran post players in the league.

Elsewhere, Rochester brings back Carson Rotter and Brayden O’Connor, while newcomer Riccardo Burttnini has already taken steps as a scorer for the Warriors.

Just about everybody in the EvCo has a host of questions to answer. Now, the games are here, and it’s time to see who can answer them best — and fastest.

2A EvCo Girls

Black Hills Wolves

Coach: Herb Guscott (Fifth year)

2022-23 record/finish: 7-13 (Missed District tournament)

Returning starters: Kiley McMahon, Claire Johnson, Carmen Williams, Ava Klovas, Amanda Aybar

Newcomers to watch : Ashley Harris and Tyler Venable

Centralia Tigers

Coach: Austin Danielson (Second year)

2022-23 record/finish: 1-18 (Missed District tournament)

Returning starters: Gracie Schofield, Brooklyn Sprague, Makayla Chavez

Newcomer(s) to watch: Makenzie Erickson

Quoteable: “I want us to maintain a high level of intensity and play at a high level for a whole game. One of the big things we struggled with last year was putting a whole game together.”

Rochester Warriors

Coach: Keeli Rivas (First year)

2022-23 record/finish: 8-14 (Lost District pigtail)

Returning starters: Sara Haury, Grace Hoover, Mandy Andree-Cordell, Delany Winter

Newcomer(s) to watch: Lizzie Hoover & Alexis Dupont

Quoteable: “Our motto this year is ‘Be Relentless,’ meaning attack, adapt and attack again.”

Tumwater Thunderbirds

Coach: Nathan Buchheit (Second year)

2022-23 record/finish: 20-7 (District champions, State tournament)

Returning starters: Regan Brewer, Kendall Gjurasic, Rhylee Beebe

Newcomer(s) to watch: N/A

W.F. West Bearcats

Coach: Kyle Karnsofski (Fifth year)

2022-23 record/finish: 20-7 (District runner-up, State tournament)

Returning starters: Julia Dalan, Amanda Bennett, Grace Simpson, Lena Fragner, Carlie Deskins

Newcomer(s) to watch: Dilyn Boeck, Kaitlyn Chloupek, Joy Cushman

2A EvCo Boys

Black Hills Wolves

Coach: Jeff Gallagher (11th season)

2022-23 record/finish: 14-6  (District tournament)

Returning starters: Simon Nysted, Jack Ellison

Newcomer(s) to watch: James Morgan, Talon Morrill, Quinton Morrill, Jaxsen Beck

Centralia Tigers

Coach: Kyle Donahue (Eighth year)

2022-23 record/finish: 2-16 (Missed District tournament)

Returning starters: Brady Sprague, Aidan Haines, Cohen Ballard

Newcomer(s) to watch: David Daarud, Landon Jenkins, Von Wasson

Quoteable: “It feels like an older group, a more mature group. And that makes it fun to coach, because you’re not frustrated all the time saying the same things over and over and over again.” 

Rochester Warriors

Coach: Gino McDuffie (Second year)

2022-23 record/finish: 2-18 (Missed District tournament)

Returning starters: Carson Rotter, Brayden O’Connor

Newcomers to watch: Colton Weiss, Riccardo Burttini 

Tumwater Thunderbirds

Coach: Josh Wilson (Seventh year)

2022-23 record/finish: 22-6 (Tie-third in District, Fourth in State)

Returning starters: None

Newcomer(s) to watch: Clay Morgan, Sahara Anthony, Jake Dillon, Henry Wilson

W.F. West Bearcats

Coach: Chris White (Ninth year)

2022-23 record/finish: 14-8 (District tournament)

Returning starters: Tyler Klatush, Braden Jones, Gage Brumfield, Parker Eiswald

Newcomer(s) to watch:  Grady Westlund and Lucas Hoff