A season ago, first-year Peninsula High School basketball coach Matt Robles was tasked with replacing an entire starting five that included current Oregon State sophomore JaQuori McLaughlin and University of Idaho freshman Garrett Kingman.
Oh, and implementing new offense, new defense, new terminology, etc.
Forgive the Seahawks for stumbling out of the gate a bit.
Peninsula got out to an 0-6 start in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, youth and inexperience fully on display. But around the midpoint of the season, things started to turn around.
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The players grew up. The plays became comfortable. The system began to make sense.
Peninsula went 6-2 in league the rest of the way and won a playoff game against Stadium, 71-59, before losing to Kelso, 62-54, to end its season.
“It wasn’t necessarily what (the coaches) wanted to do, but just getting the kids used to playing,” Robles said. “I don’t think they played a lot of quality minutes the year before because the team was so good. I think it was just getting them game experience. I think it’s stating the obvious that we improved.”
Indeed. And fast forward to now: Peninsula is suddenly a veteran team with playmakers on both sides of the ball and high hopes for contending for a league title this year.
Guard Elijah McLaughlin and forward Seth Kasteler will likely carry the bulk of the scoring load for the Seahawks, while seniors Sam Miller, Jared Brinkman and Dustin Baker bring valuable varsity experience to the team.
“We have a lot of guys that have been around,” Miller said. “I practiced my freshman year against JaQuori, and Garrett, and guys like that. Seth has been around for a long time. Elijah has been around. We’ve got guys that have really been through the grind. All of that has prepared us for now. We’re excited.”
Brinkman said the program has come a long way in a year.
“This time last year, we were still trying to put in offense, Robles was teaching us different things, all the basic stuff,” he said. “We’re just adding onto that now. There’s a lot more experience. We know what we’re going into.”
Peninsula had a strong summer league season. The team is looking to build on the momentum from last season’s finish and a strong offseason.
“Last year, we started off slow,” Miller said. “Then we learned to compete. Then we started to win games. Learning how to win those games really helped us out. I think it’ll help us out this year, too.”
Robles said he’s optimistic about the team’s chances this season.
“I’m hoping we can build a lot off it,” he said. “We’ve got a good core back, we’ve got some younger guys who have been running our stuff at the lower level. I think we have the pieces to be solid and to be competitive in our league, which is really tough. Timberline is very good, North Thurston is really good. Everyone is really good. Our crosstown rival will be good. We’ve got good pieces, good chemistry. We’re going to try to be unselfish, we’re going to want to share the ball. I think if we keep building off that, we can have a really fun and really competitive year.”
Robles said being consistent — day in and day out — will be the key.
“When we talk about being consistent, it’s about practicing like that every day,” Robles said. “Being ready to play, get better and improve. And then just playing hard, playing tough and playing unselfish. We really value those things in this program. I think if we’re good teammates, if we’re unselfish, I think good things happen. We’re trending in the right direction. We’re hoping we get there by the end of the year.”
Peninsula’s senior class is as cohesive right now as high school teams come, having played together for quite a while now.
“It’s going to come down to team chemistry,” Miller said. “We seniors have to learn how to lead, get the younger guys to buy into what we’re doing and listen to them, too. There’s a lot of really talented young guys on this team. If we have good team chemistry, we should be really solid.”
Brinkman, not surprisingly, was on the same page as Miller.
“It comes down to teamwork,” Brinkman said. “Really investing into the team atmosphere. If we do that, I think we can do big things.”