If you believed the Richland Bombers were a year away from making a run to the Class 4A boys state basketball tournament, you weren’t alone.
Sometimes, even the Richland High players — all but four of them underclassmen — weren’t entirely convinced they would make it.
Richland coach Earl Streufert, however, knew they were ready for the big time. All they needed was a chance to prove it.
“There were times we really didn’t believe that, but he kept telling us from Day 1 that we were a state tournament team,” said the coach’s son, Nathan, who played a major role in the team’s success.
The 6-foot-7 junior post led the Bombers in points (16.8), rebounds (8.5), assists (6.5) and blocks (1.1) on the way to Richland’s sweep of league, district and regional titles.
“This season was everything I dreamed of. I didn’t know exactly how good we would be, but coming from behind to beat Gonzaga Prep (in the Bombers’ season-opener at Art Dawald Gym) proved we can do great things,” said Nathan, the Tri-City Herald player of the year.
Richland won 13 of 14 games through January and February — including a 68-39 Class 4A regional victory over Stadium — to earn its first state appearance since 2008.
The Bombers went 0-2 at state, losing to Arlington and Central Valley, but are optimistic about returning to Tacoma in 2014.
“We’re already thinking about (next season),” Nathan said. “Steven (Beo), Jacob (DeVries) and I are already in the gym, getting in offseason workouts.”His dad, who also teaches at Richland, is looking forward to returning to the court next season after earning his second league title and fifth district championship in 13 seasons with the Bombers.
“The beauty is I get to see them every day at school. They’ll go play in different venues — in AAU or in the city’s open gym,” Earl said. “(Losing at state) was a bitter pill to swallow. It’s always easy to say you learned a lot from a win, but it’s tougher after a loss. I think these guys will respond in the right way.”
The Richland coach reflected positively on an enjoyable year that he and his team can remember for the rest of their lives.
“The run we went on in the second half was one of the best I’ve had in my time here,” he said. “Probably the most satisfying thing was the way we continued to get better. We were willing to go out and compete every night. We had a lot of heroes in a lot of situations.”
Most of those heroes will be back, as four of the five Richland starters will return next season. At the center of that group will be Nathan, who exponentially grew as a leader and a threat at both ends of the court.
“I think he’s just scratched the surface of what he can do,” coach Streufert said. “He’s got a long way to go to mature physically, and he got some hard lessons in leadership. Hopefully, he can put those two things together and get a little faster start next year.”
Joining Streufert on the All-Area first team is his teammate, junior guard Payton Radliff, who averaged more than 14 points and three steals a game.
Cooper Clyde, a 6-1 senior guard from Kamiakin, got a taste of the Class 3A state tournament last season and led the Braves to within one game of a third consecutive league title. He carried the team when injuries threatened its season. The rock-steady shooter earned the Mid-Columbia Conference MVP honors, leading Kamiakin with 16 points a game and chipping in six rebounds and four assists per contest.
Joe Douglas, a 6-5 senior post from Hanford, led a strong effort to get the Falcons back to the 3A state tournament. The Falcons fell just short of that goal, but Douglas averaged 19 points and nine rebounds a game in his final season.
Walla Walla had a dominating post of its own, and his name was Tanner Cranor. The 6-8 senior averaged 14.7 points and seven rebounds with a season high of 35 points.
Rounding out the first team is Cristian Aguilar, a senior guard from Kiona-Benton who led the Bears to the SCAC East championship. The four-year starter also became Ki-Be’s all-time leading scorer, clearing 1,400 points.
2013 Tri-City Herald All-Area boys basketball team
Most Valuable Player: Nathan Streufert, forward, junior, Richland
Coach of the year: Earl Streufert, Richland
Cooper Clyde, guard, senior, Kamiakin
Cristian Aguilar, guard, senior, Kiona-Benton
Joe Douglas, post, senior, Hanford
Payton Radliff, guard, junior, Richland
Tanner Cranor, post, senior, Walla Walla
Kylle Robertson, guard, junior, Kamiakin
Mitchel Mueller, guard, senior, Kennewick
Wesley Henderson, post, senior, Chiawana
Jalen Watson, guard, senior, Hanford
Julian Figueroa, guard, senior, Pasco
Terran Brown, guard, junior, River View
Chris Ryckman, guard, junior, Columbia (Burbank)
Mick Phelps, post, senior, Kiona-Benton
Mason Schutt, guard, junior, Prosser
Javan Williams, guard, senior, Kamiakin