The Connell Eagles Are Having Best Season In Years
The Connell boys basketball team (19-4) is having their best season in over ten years. They’ve already wrapped up an SCAC East Title, and are on the verge of making it to the state playoffs.
Senior forward Austin Smith has been a four year varsity contributor, and it’s always been a goal of his to play a playoff game at the Yakima Sundome.
“We’ve all been playing together since fifth grade, and that’s always been our dream,” Smith said. “You want to walk into that Sundome and play on that court.”
While Connell is best known for their football success, the basketball team has also quietly strung together seven straight winning seasons.
This year however presents their best chance to make a state title run, and it’s largely due to the wealth of experience on the roster. Ten seniors fill out the rotation, and most of them have been playing on varsity for three or four years now.
Looking back on the regular season, the only teams that gave them a real fight were 2A contender Ephrata, and conference rival Royal. Outside of those two opponents, Connell absolutely crushed the competition, winning by over 20 points on average.
Austin Smith credits Connell’s chemistry as the primary reason why they were able to separate themselves from their opponents. Most of the roster have been playing together since 5th grade, and they all know each other’s tendencies extremely well.
Knowing where each other is going to be, and covering each other’s weaknesses is not something that comes together in one season. It takes years to develop that chemistry.
Not to say that there aren’t any underclassmen contributing this year. Senior guard Nolan Chase mentioned Ethan Morrill as a building block for the team going forward.
“He pulls his weight around here,” Chase said with a laugh.
Despite their regular season success, Connell is fully aware that their most difficult challenges lies ahead.
They already got their first taste of what elite competition looks like, when they faced number three ranked Zillah this past Saturday in the district championship. It was a tough 86-51 loss.
Three time All Leaguer Silas Chase believed that there’s a lot they learned from this game.
“We’ve got to play faster,” Chase said. “Going up against Zillah, we weren’t ready for this. Our transitional defense needs to be better.”
When you’re blowing out teams in the regular season, often times you have to slow things down in order to not run up that score. That philosophy certainly doesn’t apply in the postseason.
When it comes to the state playoffs, the small town Eagles will have to play the best teams from Seattle, Spokane, and Vancouver. They’ll be doing their best to look the part on the big stage.
“We’re a small farm town, and not many people around the state can put our name to a dot on the map,” admitted Nolan Chase.
It’s likely that Connell’s first round opponent is going to be national powerhouse Lynden Christian. It’s a team that features division one Michigan commit Cole Bajema.
If there’s a team that can give the Lyncs a run for their money however, it would certainly be a savvy veteran group like the Connell Eagles.
Regardless of what happens in the postseason, this team is hoping this can be a year that jump starts a new era in Connell Hoops.
This year’s senior class are the first to play their entire career under head coach Devin O’Brien, and they’ve seen many positive changes to the program over the past four seasons.
“Summer hoops is the main thing,” Chase said. “We didn’t really have an [off-season] program before he got here. We used to play like five games, now we play 30 or 40.”
This 2018-2019 campaign has been been four years in the making, as O’Brien had this season circled as their breakout year. So far they’ve been living up to expectations.
As one of just a couple 1A contenders from the Eastern Washington region, Connell is definitely a team you’ll want to monitor this postseason. They will play a neutral site regional game either next Friday Feb. 22, or next Saturday Feb. 23.