Most students would count themselves lucky if their school’s football or boys basketball teams got one shot at a state title. Richland High School has a chance to capture championships in both sports in the same academic year, a feat that would make some history.
Only eight times has a school won football and boys basketball state championships in the same academic year, according to WIAA records dating to 1973, and it’s never been done among the 4A ranks, the state’s top classification and the one in which Richland competes.
The Bombers accomplished the first leg of this harrowing task in the fall when their football team ran the table for the first time in the modern era to win its first state title since 1999 and third overall. The hoops squad seems destined for special things as well, after posting a perfect 20-0 regular-season record to win the MCC title, and suffering its first loss of the campaign in a thrilling district title game Friday against the state’s top-ranked Gonzaga Prep Bullpups.
Richland has a — forgive me here — rich history of athletic success, especially in football and boys basketball, with each team winning three state titles in their histories. That history, and expectation for winning, has been rekindled in recent years, with the football team reaching the state semis, then finals, in the two years leading up to this most recent title run; and the basketball team placing fifth in the state last year, second in 2014, and earning national attention this season, ranked as highly as No. 15 in the nation by the USA Today Super 25 Expert Poll.
“The connection between a state title, the football team kind of sets the tone for your school year a lot of times,” Richland boys basketball coach Earl Streufert said. “People were excited because they (the football team) were so successful. We don’t really talk about it. We just want to win tomorrow night, and then the night after that, whoever it is and wherever it’s at.”
There aren’t a ton of athletes contributing on both teams at Richland, but Cody Sanderson (a wide receiver/defensive back on the football team) is a starting guard for the hoops team, and Nathan Mitchell (wide receiver and backup quarterback) is the varsity squad’s sixth man.
As much as winning the school’s third state football title meant to him and the community, Sanderson posits that cutting down the nets at the Tacoma Dome could create an even greater memory for him.
“Personally, I think basketball would mean a little bit more to me, because that’s something I’ve been thinking about since freshman year,” the second team All-MCC junior said. “Football kind of just happened, and I was just a part of that. This year, with basketball, I feel like I’m more involved, so that’s like a big goal of mine (winning a state title), and that’d be awesome to achieve that.”
While the Bombers are out of the running to become the first Washington team to not lose a football or boys basketball game in the same school year, they can still combine for state titles while losing just one total game for the fourth time in state history.
Their quest for that feat continues at 6 p.m. Friday when they take on the Big 9-champion Davis Pirates in the regional round of state at Chiawana. The winner of the game will advance straight to the state quarterfinals while the loser has to play in the Round of 12.
Richland’s balance across its starting five makes it a threat to go on a run at the state tournament.
Senior center Riley Sorn — the MCC Defensive and Overall Player of the Year — averaged 16 points, 3.8 blocks and 7.6 rebounds during the regular season, and at 7-foot-3 affects opposing offenses in a way few, if any, other players in the state can; junior Cole Northrop led the league in scoring at 19 points per game and also averaged 3.6 assists; Garrett Streufert was the area’s most dynamic passer, averaging 5.9 assists per contest with 11.5 points and 6.3 boards; Sanderson averaged 13.2 points and and 5.3 rebounds per game; and Ryan Wagar is regarded as a lock-down defender, who averages more than two steals per game and is among the team’s most efficient scorers, averaging 9.4 points while hitting nearly 48 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“The way we think of it as that we come out and play for each other. We’re not looking to just get stats for ourselves, I don’t want to fail my teammates,” Sanderson said. “That’s what’s driven us to play so good, I think.”