Wenatchee Determined To Be Playoff Contender
The Wenatchee Panthers (11-4) are currently amidst a statement season. Right now they’ve won 10 of their past 12, and are by themselves at the top of the Big Nine standings.
Driven by stars like forward Darius Carlson and guard Garrett Long, they are quickly turning into the favorite to represent the Big Nine in the state playoffs.
“It’s been proven that anyone can beat anyone,” Long said. “We just have to be consistent and it all starts with practice.”
Wenatchee has been far from a playoff contender the last couple years, finishing a pedestrian 18-26 during that span.
Carlson is a four year varsity contributor, and he’s been blown away by the year over year improvement of his team.
“I think the culture has really changed,” Carlson said. “A lot of big sophomores and juniors have stepped up.”
With Carlson being the lone senior on the roster, he’s embraced the chance to play with a young, hungry supporting cast.
Perhaps the biggest playmaker that has stepped up this year has been sophomore point guard Garrett Long. He’s averaging 16.8 PPG, which is third in the conference.
Other notable players that have risen this year is 6-5 big man Chase Loidhamer, scoring threats Nate Blauman and Evan Smith, and also utility guys JJ Jesling, Riley Kunz, and Joe Dorey.
As amazing as the season has gone so far, it would only be fair to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
The Big Nine conference simply doesn’t get respect across the statewide scene.
Everyone wants to talk about the Spokane scene, Seattle suburbs, Tri-Cities and Vancouver. When it comes to Central Washington, the mainstream tends to look the other way.
Only one team will represent the Big Nine at the state tournament this year. If it is Wenatchee, they’re hellbent on making noise at the highest level.
“I do feel like we’re looked down upon because we’re from the Big Nine,” Carlson said. “We’re just going to let our record talk for us.”
If there’s one player that knows how to make a playoff run, it would be Carlson. He’s the only carryover form the 15-16 state playoff team.
Back in 2015 the Panthers had one of the best seasons in program history. They finished 19-5 and made it to the state quarterfinals, before falling to powerhouse Gonzaga Prep.
According to Carlson, the trait that stood out the most about that group is tenacious defense. In fact, Wenatchee is at their best when they play lockdown D.
This trait will come especially handy at the state level, where scoring tends to take a major nose dive.
Of course, the state playoffs are still a month away. If there’s one thing we know about high school basketball, it's a lot can go wrong in a month.
Junior Nate Blauman is one of the top scorers on the roster, he gave his thoughts on what they need to improve on the most.
“We need to execute every single play,” Blauman said. “Getting after it on both ends will need to happen more.”
The sudden rise in Wenatchee Basketball is a direct reflection of the growth in quality of the Wenatchee sports scene.
It’s not an area you can recruit to, so the rise of programs like Wenatchee (11-4), Eastmont (9-7) and Cashmere (13-4) have been incredibly organic.
Long has been apart of the local basketball scene for years now, and he’s excited for what his town can do going forward.
“We’ve had local teams that compete with Seattle,” Long said. “We’re going to go out there and surprise some teams.”