Jack Rose discovered a funny way to motivate his Kiona-Benton players when it comes to chasing the SCAC East championship.
He doesn't bring it up.
"Last year I would set goals like that all the time, and they didn't respond very well," the coach said. "Halfway through the year I stopped talking about districts, and we started winning games. So I just stopped talking about it."
The trick appears to be working again this season, as Ki-Be is off to a 4-1 start, losing only to last year's 1A runner-up Zillah.
Leading the Bears is junior guard Cristian Aguilar (15.2) -- a starter since his freshman year -- junior forward Mick Phelps (8.9) and sophomore guard Anfernee Cortez (8.7).
Mabton is coming off a strong season that included its second consecutive state appearance. The Vikings lost SCAC East MVP Kristian Carrasco but returns guard Josh Sanchez (11.4).
Connell will take a few games to get up to speed after its football team won the 1A state title. Four players -- Matt Hadley, Kade Eppich, Kennan VanHollebeke and Chandler Salisbury -- from that team started on the hardwood for the Eagles.
Eppich (13.8), a returning first-team All-SCAC East selection, and Hadley (10.2), second-team All-SCAC East, give Connell one of the top backcourt duos in the league.
Senior posts Cole Vanderbilt and VanHollebeke provide the Eagles with a formidable presence inside.
At Columbia-Burbank, the Coyotes hope to improve on a 7-5 league finish and an early exit from SCAC districts.
With senior guard and returning first-team pick Nate Roberts (12.1) leading the charge, plus a wealth of experienced seniors, Burbank should find themselves in a position to win plenty of tough games.
River View may be another year away from its next playoff run, but look for Roger Sonderland's young team to make great strides this season. The Panthers are led by returning starters David Flores (6.9) and Chris Westfall (2.4).
Senior post Kent Christensen (10.2) will anchor Royal's hopes of a return to the postseason, and senior Jared Sabin (9.1) will lead Wahluke.
Predicted finish: Kiona-Benton, Mabton, Connell, Columbia-Burbank, River View, Royal, Wahluke.
Coach: D.J. Traver (7th year).
Last state trip: 2010.
Returning players: G Jeremy Bertsch, sr., 5-9; G Matt Chambers, sr., 5-9; G Casey Hanshew, sr., 5-7; G Heath Lawrence, sr., 5-8; G Josh McVicker, sr., 5-7; G Nathan Roberts, sr., 5-11.
Stepping up: G Jose Barajas, jr., 5-7; F Dylan Idler, jr., 6-0; G Justin McBride, soph., 5-9; F Konnor Miller, jr., 5-11; F Chris Ryckman, soph., 5-10; F Jesse Romm, jr., 5-11.
Coach: Oscar Garza (2nd year).
Last state trip: 2008.
Returning players: G Stefan Davidson, sr., 5-10; G/F Kade Eppich, sr., 5-11; G Matt Hadley, sr., 6-0; G Chandler Salisbury, sr., 5-9; C Cole Vanderbilt, sr., 6-3; C Kennen VanHollebeke, sr., 6-4.
Stepping up: G/F Carter Chase, jr., 6-1; C/F Austin Fox, sr., 6-4; G Brenden Holst, soph., 5-7; C Mack Hopkins, soph., 6-4; G Austin Huber, sr., 5-9; G/F Riley Lyle, jr., 5-10; G Gunner Vanderbilt, soph., 5-10; G/F Errick Williams, jr., 5-10.
Coach: Jack Rose (fourth year).
Last state trip: 2003.
Returning players: G Cristian Aguilar, jr., 6-0; F Mick Phelps, jr., 6-5; G Jose Solorzano, jr., 5-9; G Anfernee Cortez, soph., 5-10; F Dalton Morgan, sr., 6-2.
Stepping up: P Nathan Christensen, jr., 6-3; G Tony Cortez, jr., 5-7; Jimmy Gifford, sr., 5-11; P Tim Herman, sr., 6-3.
River View Panthers
Coach: Roger Sonderland (27th year).
Last state trip: 2008.
Returning players: ; G Kody Bartlett, jr., 5-11; F Payton Brisby, soph., 6-4; G David Flores, jr., 5-11; G Joe Scott, jr., 5-9; F Chris Westfall, jr., 6-3.
Stepping up: G Terran Brown, soph., 5-9; P Cody Hand, soph., 6-2; G Josh Marshall, jr., 5-10; F Aaron McGaughey, sr., 5-10; P Tyler Patterson, sr., 6-2; F Ruvim Tyutunnik, fr., 6-0.
Roster not available.
Roster not available