KENNEWICK — Brian Meneely already is known for his boundless enthusiasm, but he looked especially pumped during Kamiakin basketball practice Tuesday evening in the Braves' main gymnasium.
The Kamiakin boys coach has been itching to get back into his element after a long and prosperous Braves football season ended with a 3A state championship loss to Bellevue last Friday.
Beginning Monday, when the Kamiakin football players could move on to their winter sports, the band finally was back together.
"The first day was a lot of fun, and a lot of the kids are just enjoying being around each other again," said Meneely, who led the Braves to the 3A Eastern Regional and within a hair's width of a state berth. "The kids know the plays, but we're going to have to develop the habits. Every day gets a little better."
The memory of the regional hoops loss, paired with the football team's recent success, has made the returning players all the more hungry to send the hoops team to the west side of the state as well.
"Last year in basketball we played in some pressure-packed games at regionals, and I think that helped us a lot in football," said Kamiakin guard Tyler Holle, who led the football team with 19.8 yards per catch and 10 touchdowns as a receiver. "Going all the way to the big game in football I think will translate to basketball. I think we'll be able to handle that pressure better."
Case Rada, the Braves' leading scorer last season at a little more than 14 points a game, said it was a little difficult being one of just 13 varsity and JV players waiting for the remainder of the team to join the mix.
"It's bittersweet. You want them to win a state championship, but you want to start playing basketball," Rada said.
Asked how long it will take for the team to get up to speed, Rada replied. "I don't know. We've never been to this situation. We'll find out on Friday when we play Hermiston."
Kamiakin certainly will be one of the area's best teams, but the Braves are not the only point of interest this season. Here's a list of other players, teams and dates that fans can watch for:
1) There have been several coaching changes this season, and at every level, that should give plenty of teams some new looks.
John Hohman, who coached at Big Bend Community College for 15 seasons, will take over for Rolland Hansen at Moses Lake. Pat Fitterer, who coached Eisen-hower for seven years, will take over at his alma mater, Ellensburg, while Brad Schultz will guide the Cadets.
The CBBN 3A has a couple changes as well. Charlie Villanueva inherits the head coaching job at Pasco after 18 years as an assistant, and John Kinloch takes over at West Valley.
Other notable first-year coaches in the Mid-Columbia include Oscar Garza (Connell) and Allyn Griffin (DeSales).
2) The structure of the WIAA state playoff system will change dramatically. When teams travel to the championship sites, the tournaments will now be an eight-team format instead of 16.
The WIAA made the move to keep students from missing a day of class. But it also generates money for the WIAA, turning the final day of regional tournaments into the first round of state play.
"It's unfortunate they can't find a better way. I'm sure a big fan of taking 16 teams. It's a great opportunity for the east side," said Walla Walla coach John Golden.
3) River View guard Juan Contreras, an all-league guard who was second in the league in scoring, will not get another season of eligibility after a recent appeal from his mother was rejected. With him and his brother, Victor, in the lineup, the Panthers went 11-1 in the SCAC East to win the league championship. Without him, River View will lose a major offensive weapon.
4) There are several exciting players to keep an eye on this year, but one of the most thrilling might be Pasco's Brandon Search. A second-team All-CBBN Columbia Division selection last season, the senior can jump out of the gym and may get a chance for some electrifying fast-break finishes in the Bulldogs' new system. Pasco might not contend for a title this season, but that doesn't mean fans won't have anything to cheer about.
Chiawana's Stephen Walter is off to a great start and could possibly contend for the scoring title this season. Southridge towering posts Derek Porter and Brad Scott will share the floor quite a bit this year and could make the Suns tough to penetrate inside.
Aaron Neary just makes Hanford a better team. The Falcons were miserable in a 78-39 home loss to Richland, a game that Hanford coach Paul Mayer said his team all but gave up. It's unlikely that Neary, who is recovering from a broken ankle, would have let that happen.
As a sophomore guard, Jake Siefken helped lead Liberty Christian to a spot in the 2B state championship. The Patriots were hit hard by graduation, but expect Siefken to keep his team in games.
5) Date to remember: Friday, January 14, 2011. The Davis Pirates will visit the Richland Bombers at Art Dawald Gym in Richland in a battle of CBBN 4A teams that will fight each other for the league title.
Both teams can run, both teams can shoot and both teams are led by great coaching staffs. Can the home-gym advantage prove to be the difference?