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Cougars start season with new-look league
Scott McMinds says he loves a challenge, which is a good thing.
Due to a league realignment, which makes it tougher to earn a post-season berth, and what promises to be a bruising non-league schedule to start the boys basketball season, the Central Kitsap High School Cougars will find out if they are up to the challenge.
McMinds, the third-year head boys basketball coach, has no complaints.
“The cream of the crop should rise,” McMinds said Tuesday night. “The four best teams will be at the top.”
When the Narrows League was realigned, starting this year, the number of post-season slots in the West Central District tournament dropped from five or six to four. The shift also placed the burden of reaching the post-season on a team’s regular season record, eliminating the chance of getting to districts by excelling in the league tournament.
The Class 4A Narrows League now includes Bellarmine Prep, Gig Harbor, Mount Tahoma, Olympia, Shelton, South Kitsap and Stadium high schools along with Central Kitsap.
The realignment flipped the league on its ear after previously being split into two divisions, known as Bay and Bridge. Now, the league has transformed itself again, but the message for Central Kitsap is simple: The team will have to come together to finish in the top four, McMinds said, or they won’t lace up in February.
“There will be games on the schedule we know we have to win to keep pace,” he added. “We’ll have to fight real hard to make it in the top four this year.”
The Cougars finished 9-12 last season after losing five of their final six games, including a season-ending 77-51 thumping from Foss High School in the Narrows League tournament. The lopsided loss eliminated the Cougars from the postseason.
Despite the obstacles, McMinds said he’s content with the new structure. He described the now-defunct Narrows League tournament as a money-driven event.
“The extra games you play at the league tournament are for more money,” he added. “And that’s not always the best situation.”
McMinds also said that a league tournament puts extra pressure on his players, who have already played 20 games in the regular season.
Central Kitsap took first place in the league two seasons ago, McMinds’ first with the team, but lost two Narrows tournament games to advance as a No. 4 seed. The Cougars are trying to reach the postseason again this year, and it won’t be easy.
“I don’t want to play easy teams,” McMinds said Tuesday night following a 90-56 loss to Puyallup High School. “I don’t think you get better playing easy teams, so we have to challenge ourselves.”
The Cougars looked for a challenge by playing Puyallup in their preseason schedule, and they found it. Central Kitsap was unable to take control of Tuesday’s game after losing the rebound battle and playing with a weak defensive rotation. It’s a difficult loss, McMinds said, and it’s all the more humbling.
“It’s tough when you get it handed to you like that,” he added. “But that just taught us that we need to bring intensity, and we know there’s a lot of little things we need to improve on.”
The rest of Central Kitsap’s non-league schedule includes games with Foss, Bremerton and Wilson high schools. Foss and Wilson each compete in the new Class 3A Narrows League.
Scheduling non-league opponents is another challenge for McMinds, who wants to fill his schedule with powerhouse programs. His goal is to make the Cougars a better team by playing a tougher schedule with schools from the Seattle area.
McMinds wants a shot at the schools from the KingCo and South Puget Sound leagues, but therein lies a problem. The school can’t afford the transportation costs, making it difficult for the Cougars to fill a demanding non-league slate.
“Our options are limited because of a tight budget, and that’s unfortunate because we need to play big league schools,” McMinds said. “Don’t get me wrong, we have great competition in Kitsap County, we just want to expand.”
This year’s squad will feature three returning seniors – Jacob Sontag, Steffan Collins and Maurice Brown. Juniors Josh Sontag and Kerico Corry also return this season to a very young Central Kitsap squad.
The team opens league play Dec. 10 at home against Shelton High School. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Last Monday’s game with North Kitsap High School is rescheduled for Dec. 6. North Kitsap didn’t have enough practices to fill the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association requirement due to the snow storm last week.
A team captain has yet to be chosen.