Adam Deck’s introduction to head coaching could accurately be described as being thrown into the fire. Deck was hired on a Friday in July 2019 and the team played in a summer tournament the next morning. There was no time for introductions and pleasantries.
“I look pretty young, I’m short, so these kids walked in and didn’t really know who I was,” Deck said. “I said, ‘Listen, we have a chance to play some games tomorrow.’ We had 10 kids come out and we actually won two games in that tournament.”
It was a promising start, however, as the Vikings had won only one game the previous two seasons before Deck arrived. The team hadn’t qualified for the postseason since placing second at state in 2016. They’ve won five games the past four years, two of which came last season alone as Deck and the Vikings finished the season 2-18 in the Central 2B League.
There were flashes of promise, though, as Mossyrock started off the season 2-1, with wins over Tenino and Columbia Adventist, and there were five or six other games the team was in but couldn’t put a full game together.
“These kids don’t know how to win, so I’m trying to teach them how to play with confidence,” Deck said. “They just have to find it in themselves a little bit and I’m trying to help them get to that point. We have talent. Talent is not our problem. It’s putting in the time, work ethic and paying attention.”
The future is looking promising, Deck said, as the Vikings return eight of 11 players from last season, including 5-foot-5 starting point guard Keegan Kolb; 6-foot-1 junior Gunner Mulligan, who Deck said is as athletic and talented as any kid in Class 1B. One newcomer who could make an impact is Zack Nunoz, a freshman who’s grown three or four inches since last year and could end up earning a starting spot later in the season.
“Mulligan is really good and he’s putting in so much time,” Deck said. “I think he could have a monster year if he can mature mentally. I think he could really be a leader for us. Nunoz is as talented as any of those kids but I don’t want to throw him into the fire right away.”
The Vikings also bring back three seniors, Ryan Bellino, Aiden Weist and Tryn Thompson who are stronger and smarter, Deck said, he just wishes the team had more time together this summer.
No teams had an offseason this year but this is the second summer and offseason in a row that Deck wasn’t able to spend with his team. He was hired as head coach in July 2019, a month after most of the summer basketball camps take place. And with the pandemic shutting down almost every tournament this summer, it left Deck and the Vikings with little time to build teamwork.
Other than the regular season last year, the only time Deck has had with the team is during workouts this past month after the WIAA allowed all teams to practice in groups of six with brief, close contact three-on-three drills. The lack of time together these past 15 months has created challenges unity-wise for a team that desperately needs camaraderie now more than ever as it looks to turn its program around.
“When we’re together, that’s what I’m trying to work on, is getting these guys to want to be together, to want to play together,” Deck said. “It’s been tough.”
Especially with the underclassmen coming up and the Vikings able to play eighth graders now that Mossyrock dropped down to the 1B classification. Deck may have to play some of those eight graders, too, this upcoming season due to a lack of numbers.
Though dropping down to Class 1B should help the team’s chance moving forward and make them more competitive, it doesn’t solve all their problems. And the 1B ranks are tough in its own right. Naselle, which will be in Mossyrock’s league this season, placed third at state this March. The Vikings could also face Taholah in the regular season, a team that was a No. 9 seed at state. If that wasn’t enough, Willapa Valley is also dropping down to 1B. Valley placed fifth at 2B state in March after knocking off top-ranked Liberty (Spangle) in the quarterfinals.
Valley returns most of its top players, including 6-foot-4 leading scorer Logan Walker, who will likely be the MVP of the league this season, and 6-foot-5 post Beau Buchanan. Pe Ell is also dropping down to 1B, as well.
“There’s some really good 1B teams,” Deck said. “Naselle beat almost every 2B team they played last year. They’re really good and get almost everyone back from a semifinal; Willapa Valley gets almost everyone back from a semifinal team.”
Still, it has Deck and his squad excited to improve on last year’s two-win season. The new league, which last season was the 1B Columbia Valley, will include Mossyrock, Willapa Valley, Naselle, Pe Ell, Columbia Adventist, Washington School for the Deaf, Firm Foundation Christian and Three Rivers Christian.
Changing the culture is the motto for this group. Deck often points to when he played for the Vikings back in the late 90s, when they were league champs two of his four years on the team, and when Jaron Kirkley led them to the state title game in 2016. Kirkley, who just wrapped up his collegiate career at Division II power Whitman College while scoring 14 points per game, often helps the team with workouts. Having someone the kids know, look up to and saw play when they were younger has helped tremendously, Deck said.
The Vikings are currently practicing every Thursday and Sunday night, including a daily 90-minute workout session that involves weight training and plyometrics. Deck and his assistant reward two kids each day who worked the hardest. It’s an incentive to push them further than they’ve gone before.
“There’s nothing more that I want for this team than to be back on top where it had been for a while,” Deck said. “It was a place people hated to come to. Now people can’t wait to come get their stats up. I hate that. I hate everything about it. I’m trying to put some fear back in coming to Mossyrock. Trying to get these kids to believe in themselves and play hard for their school.”