Scorching White River teams head for Yakima

mwochnick@theolympian.comMarch 6, 2014 

The emergence of White River freshman Kendall Bird (30), blocking the shot of Black Hills’ Nicole Nurmi during a Class 2A regional playoff win Saturday, has been crucial to the Hornets’ late-season surge and their spot in the state tournament.

LUI KIT WONG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

They can dance aboard their Yakima-bound charter buses, sing or tell stories. By clinching Class 2A state tournament berths, both White River High School basketball teams have reason to cavort.

The Hornets girls have won 13 of their past 14 games under longtime coach Chris Gibson, including a run to the West Central District title. They play top-ranked and defending 2A champion Mark Morris in the quarterfinals Thursday.

Rick Tripp’s boys squad has been nearly as hot, winning 11 of 12, and also winning a district championship. Up next is Anacortes in the 2A quarterfinals.

Not all has been rosy this season. Both teams have sputtered through uneven performances — for different reasons.

For the girls, it has been youth. Kennedy Hobert, the 2013 2A SPSL player of the year, graduated and went off to George Fox University. She has been replaced by two talented but inexperienced underclassmen — sophomore Darian Gore and ninth-grader Kendall Bird.

“We knew we would have some growing pains,” Gibson said.

After two regular-season losses to Sumner, Gibson and the staff decided to make changes. They increased their playing tempo, and they went back to a full-court matchup press.

“We had gotten away from some of our zone concepts,” Gibson said. “I needed to simplify things.”

Yet, something else was missing, and it bothered Gibson. He pulled out a few old DVDs of some of his past teams and saw an element in them that he wasn’t seeing with his current squad.

“We didn’t have grit, and we weren’t being very tough,” Gibson said. “I showed them film from 2009, and (the players) saw a team running around getting after it. They saw a team celebrating on the bench.

“Kids are visual learners. Instead of telling them all the time ... I needed them to see what it looks like. I told them, ‘You don’t need to play that team, but you better act like them.’ And that is where we went.”

Tripp also had to replace a key contributor from last year’s boys team — point guard Alex Sayler, now at Seattle Pacific University.

The Hornets returned a lot of talent but had no proven ballhandler. That’s an important element because Tripp runs a few more plays than your normal high school team — 10 different defenses, 32 offensive sets and 12 inbounds plays.

“At the beginning of the year, we tried to see where we were at, and then tinkered ... just to see what lineup combinations would work for us,” Tripp said.

At first, Dustin France and Brandon Garvin shared point-guard duties. During the course of the season, France has become the primary facilitator.

And it has paid dividends — France had a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and led the league with four steals per game this season.

“He is definitely our glue,” Tripp said.

Over the past month, Tripp has really shortened his player rotation.

“We got to the point,” Tripp said, “we needed our horses to get up and go.”

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