High School Sports

Puyallup’s Kendall Munson, after returning from California, has Tacoma Dome ambitions

Puyallup played Federal Way in a basketball game at Stadium High School in Tacoma, Wash., on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.
Puyallup played Federal Way in a basketball game at Stadium High School in Tacoma, Wash., on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Kenddall Munson knows of the allure of the Tacoma Dome.

“That’s been a dream, to play in the Dome,” the Puyallup High School junior said this week. “When I used to live up here, I used to go to the games and watch (Rainier) Beach, Garfield — all of the (Class) 3A games — Federal Way.

“My dad and I went to almost every one we could for two years. We went up there all day.”

Munson spent his first two years of high school attending Capital Christian, a private school in Sacramento, Calif., and played basketball for the Cougars as a freshman.

His family returned to the South Sound in November. Despite a late start at Puyallup, the 6-foot-8 forward — who averages a team-high 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds — is a big reason the Vikings are in position to reach the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 2011.

“The fan base, they always talk about, ‘Get us to the Dome, get us to the Dome.’ That’s what we’re working for in here every day,” Munson said. “It will be exciting if we get there.”

Puyallup (19-7) last won a 4A state regionals game during that 2011 season, when they knocked off Ballard in a loser-out game for a trip to the Tacoma Dome. But, the Vikings haven’t won a game at the tournament site since 2004.

Munson, a 4A SPSL first-team pick, and a versatile cast of Vikings — which includes sharp-shooting guards Jaeden Ingram (14.1 points per game, 4.1 rebounds) and Cobi Campbell (14.7 points, 4.8 assists) — will aim to end that drought Friday, when they play Chiawana in a loser-out state regionals game at Auburn Mountainview.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Puyallup coach Scott Campbell, who is in his 12th season with the program. “The years that we haven’t made it, it hasn’t been a lack of work. It’s a hard district to get out of, so we’re really excited for this group. I definitely think they’ve earned it.

“We’ve grown a lot through the season. We’ve had a lot of changes this season. They’re definitely growing closer, and getting tougher and stronger together.”

One of the more significant changes has been adding inside depth. In past seasons, the Vikings lacked size.

With Munson and Bonney Lake transfer Zane Foster, a 7-foot forward, and returning 6-8 forward Dylan Rhoades, Puyallup is stronger in the paint. That’s allowed their perimeter game to flourish, with Ingram and Campbell both shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.

“A lot of our offense started to switch to more of a post-up game, which is opening up all of the shooters outside, which is nice,” Ingram said. “That’s how we like to play.

“I don’t feel like anybody can guard us, because we have shooters, we have length, we have bigs, we have people who can take it to the hole. We’re very versatile.”

Munson in particular — who has Division I interest from schools like Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Nevada and Pepperdine — has become one of the biggest challenges for opposing coaches.

“He has a really good motor, and he’s so strong and physical,” said longtime Olympia coach John Kiley, whose team faced Munson three times this season — and during those appearances Munson averaged 14.7 points and 10 rebounds.

“The thought process from an opposing coach’s standpoint is — he’s going to take it right to you. He’s assertive to the rim, he plays above the rim. ... He will just physically attack you.”

Defensively, Kiley said Munson’s length in Puyallup’s zone reminds him of a player the Bears faced early in his coaching career — Jamal Crawford, a local basketball legend who now plays for the Phoenix Suns.

Olympia lost to Crawford and Rainier Beach in 1998, in the 3A championship game in the Kingdome.

“In a zone, he really shrinks the court,” Kiley said of Munson.

Munson grew up in Chicago, primarily playing baseball and football. He didn’t play basketball until he first moved to Kent as a sixth-grader.

“My brother played basketball and football, and I thought I might as well give (basketball) a shot,” he said. “I had the height for it, and I’ve liked it ever since.”

Munson’s family left for California his eighth-grade year. He played one season for Capital Christian, notching a handful of double-doubles, on his way to an honorable mention All-Metro selection by The Sacramento Bee. He also helped the Cougars reach the California Interscholastic Federation state playoffs that year.

He missed his sophomore season with a torn ACL, but said he has worked consistently to reach the point he’s at now. He estimates he spends about four hours in the gym per day.

“It’s all about the work you put in,” Munson said. “I’ve seen people, when I was younger, who were super good and stopped working, and they’re nowhere now. It’s all about the kids who put in the work when nobody is looking.”

Munson has noticed marked improvement since returning from his injury, but says there’s more he wants to work on.

“I have to get my legs stronger, though, get a little bouncier,” he said.

He joined Puyallup when his family returned to Washington over the Thanksgiving break, and was eligible to play when the Vikings met valley rival Sumner on Dec. 22.

“He was able to practice for a couple of weeks, and sit through some games on the bench ... before he became eligible,” Campbell said. “I was really impressed with how he handled that, and jumped right in as a teammate.

“He was really encouraging and positive on the bench. That’s a challenging situation for anybody, especially a high school kid who is just moving into a new school, to go through. I think he handled himself really well.”

Munson recorded 14 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in his first game — and has become one of Puyallup’s most reliable assets since.

“He’s done a great job learning and picking things up,” Campbell said. “Just being a great athlete and basketball player makes a lot of things work really well.

“I think Kendall is just scratching the surface. I think he’s really comfortable in the post and mid-post area. I think he has a lot of potential to improve his perimeter play, and I think that’s something that he really wants to do.”

Munson has had big performances against the area’s best. He scored a season-high 31 points against 4A SPSL champion Curtis in January.

He tallied a double-double with 29 points and 11 rebounds against 4A state favorite Federal Way in the Class 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict quarterfinals last week — even posting bigger numbers than consensus No. 5 player in the nation Jaden McDaniels.

And Munson paced Puyallup with 19 points against Sumner on Saturday, as the Vikings grabbed the final state regionals berth out of the bidistrict tournament.

“He’s one of those guys who doesn’t really talk that much, but he just speaks with his play,” said Puyallup guard Jacob Holcomb, a four-year varsity player. “I admire that about him — that he’s a true competitor, he plays really hard and he wants to win.”

That seems to be the perspective each of Puyallup’s players has — play selflessly, and do whatever is needed for the team to win.

“That’s the best (kind of) team to be a part of,” Munson said.

“I think Kendall is doing a great job being patient and getting what he wants,” Holcomb said. “He’s passing the ball well. I think everyone is contributing great. It’s a different guy every single night.

“One night it’s Cobi, one night it’s Jaeden, one night it’s Kendall. You just never know. Luke (Holcomb) and I are going to knock down 3’s when we can, and take the open shots. Zane and Dylan are going to get theirs, too.”

And, with everyone clicking late in the season, Ingram believes Puyallup has the potential to contend with the state’s top teams.

“I think we have all of the momentum we probably could have,” Ingram said. “The city of Puyallup is loving it, we love it, and we feed off of that energy.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.