WINLOCK — As 12 Winlock boys basketball players run through sets of drills at opposite ends of the court after school Friday, there is a sense of satisfaction, though a casual observer can’t see it due to the masks on each of their faces.
The Cardinals have been practicing about six weeks now, since the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association opened up team practices on Sept. 28. On Friday, they perform rebounding drills, one-on-one defensive sets and mid-range jump shots. It’s the one time these kids are able to see each other in person as the high school is still using distance learning.
“It’s just great to give the kids an opportunity for, the big buzzword is, the social and emotional interaction they’ve been missing,” Winlock coach and athletic director Nick Bamer said. “And exercise. Without this they wouldn’t see each other. They’ve been able to at least come in here and have a tad bit of normalcy. It also keeps me sane, too, because I don’t know what I’d do without basketball.”
Another silver lining is Bamer has been working with football coach Ernie Sample to enforce the weight room, as many of the basketball players are also on the football team. Bamer, who was hired as Winlock’s athletic director on July 1, said the athletics program hasn’t had a big buy-in with regards to weight training from athletes in years past.
“For the first time ever, we really had all of our athletes lifting,” Bamer said. “I think we’re gaining some traction there and it will be a difference-maker down the road for us; just setting that standard of expectation. We’ve been able to spin it into a positive.”
The Cardinals athletics have been on the rise as a whole recently, but maybe no program more so than boys basketball. The boys had their best season in at least five years this past winter/spring, finishing 17-7 overall and 8-2 in league for a second-place finish in the 2B Central League. That included a 14-game win streak during one stretch. The Cardinals won four games during Bamer’s first year as coach. The next year they won nine games and fell one game short of regionals. Every year since then they’ve upset an opponent at the district tournament.
They’ve got some big pieces to fill this season, however. Gone are eight seniors, including three who nearly never came off the court: Noah Patching, Coleson Richendollar and Bryce Cline. Cline was the 2BCL MVP and a first-team all-state selection after leading Lewis County in scoring with 22 points per game.
“We also graduated five other kids who never missed an open gym and were great leaders,” Bamer said.
Now Bamer and the Cardinals will look to reorganize with a team that has spent little time playing together. Senior guard Landon Tiemens and junior posts Nolan Swofford and Joe Welch are the only returners who saw significant varsity minutes and have played together substantially.
“Those three are going to play big roles, but everything else is kind of up in the air,” Bamer said.
Swofford, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound interior player, said it’s difficult running up and down the court with a mask on, especially during an hour-long, high-intensity practice. Still, it’s all been worth it to have the opportunity to be with his friends and teammates.
“Even though we have restrictions, we’re dealing with them and making them work,” Swofford said. “This group of guys never played together, so we’re still learning each other’s chemistry. I’m really proud of the progress.”
Tiemens, a 5-foot-9 senior, was the starting point guard last season. He won one drill competition Friday and earned the right to not do push-ups that day.
“It just feels good to be back at the gym,” Tiemens said. “It’s a completely different roster. We’re working out the kinks still. Nolan and I played together for a year. That’s about it out of the whole group.”
Winlock suspended their indoor workouts Monday after Gov. Jay Inslee imposed statewide restrictions Sunday. Bamer expects the WIAA will issue clarifications either Monday or Tuesday stating all indoor workouts should be canceled.
“We’ll probably find out they don’t want us to practice,” Bamer said. “We’d rather be safe than sorry.”
WIAA’s tentative athletic calendar has a basketball practice period slated from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. The regular season is scheduled to go from Jan. 3 to to Feb. 21.