Column: The next generation is ready to take over

Taking a look at the rosters for the 2018-2019 winter season, you will notice a severe shortage of “12s.”

It’s not Seahawks fans that are missing, but seniors, especially those with previous varsity experience. Many of Kitsap’s most prominent teams this season will be relying on juniors, sophomores and freshmen to compete this season.

Perhaps the most extreme example is the Kingston girls basketball team, which has opened the season with a two-point loss to South Kitsap and a 47-36 win over Shorewood.

Kingston has two juniors, four sophomores and four freshman filling out its ten-player varsity roster and returns only one full-time starter from the previous year, sophomore Sierra Denning. Joining her in the starting lineup against South Kitsap was junior guard Leetsah Deam, who played a part-time role last season, sophomores Kylee Walker and Suzanne Skinner and freshman Ellee Brockman.

The Bucs played as one might have expected — with plenty of fight, energy, enthusiasm and speed while also making some “rookie” mistakes. Kingston lost the game in the final seconds after the Wolves forced a turnover on an inbound pass against some hard pressure, something head coach Charles Deam admitted he hadn’t been able to work on as much in practice yet.

“I told them after the game, us as coaches, we’ll take that one on because we didn’t have a chance to work on situational stuff yet,” Deam said. “We should have had a play where we help Kylee get the ball at the end there, we should have had two guards breaking. Two weeks isn’t enough, so that was on us.”

With so many new faces on the varsity team, coaches need time to evaluate their players and figure where all the pieces to the puzzle fit before getting into such details, and ultimately it takes longer to turn the team into a cohesive unit.

“There’s no quick way to get experience except for playing the game,” Deam said.

And that’s the situation for many teams around the peninsula.

Over at North Kitsap, the boys and girls basketball teams, which both made the state tournament last year, are welcoming in younger players who hope to make an impact.

The boys will be led by juniors Shaa Humphrey and Kobe McMillian — the two combined for 50 points in their first game against Clover Park — but they also have four freshmen in Johny Olmsted, Aiden Olmstead, Bobby Siebers and Jonas La Tour ready to make an impact. Meanwhile, the girls team has five seniors, but just one returning starter among that group, Raelee Moore, and one transfer, Maddie Pruden. The remaining three — Alicia Goetz, Julia Tweiten and Shianne Davis-Shearer — are candidates for larger roles for the first time.

“We’re definitely a work in progress,” said girls head coach Penny Gienger. “We have a lot of new pieces out there, trying to figure out who goes where and what goes where. It’s a puzzle, we’re still working on it.”

The mats will see an influx of young wrestlers as well after a number of state champions and finalists graduated last year.

Defending 4A champion South Kitsap brings back just two of its eight state placers, including sophomore Xavier Eaglin, who won the 103 championship last year. Wrestling, like swimming, is a difficult sport to win a team title because of how many different things have to go right. While a repeat should not be an expectation for the Wolves, head coach Chad Nass does believe his team will surprise people this year.

“We should be a lot better at the end of the season,” Nass said.

Olympic, which took eighth place in the 2A tournament at the 30th Mat Classic, lost a large group of seniors to graduation, include Alec Acfalle, Kyle Ignacio, Quincy Young, all of whom placed at state, and Glenn Moe. The Trojans will have a large group of youngsters to compliment junior Anjelo Pangelinan (seventh at state last year) and seniors Logan Cornell and Tim Porter.

“Don’t count us out for the league title race,” head coach Troy Reynolds said. “We may start out a little slow this year, but we’re optimistic that we’ll gain momentum as the season progresses.”

However, there are some exceptions.

Both the Kingston and Olympic boys swimming programs have plenty of experience and talent returning this year. The two teams finished third and fourth at last year’s 2A state meet and both should be in the hunt for a podium again. The Olympic girls basketball team also brings back four of its five starters and has a deep bench.

The Klahowya and Central Kitsap boys basketball teams are both senior-heavy, as is the South Kitsap boys team.

The Wolves are hoping to return to the playoffs this year in the 21st and final season with John Callaghan at the helm. All five starters and all but one bench player return. Seniors Riley Escolta, Jackson Kambich and DeAnte Ward along with junior Kyler Kelso lead an athletic team that will be exciting to watch.

“Our expectations are high for this season,” Callaghan said. “We return a veteran group and will be very deep.”

Expect the winter to be a tale of two seasons. There will be a number of teams going through growing pains in December, but those struggles should yield more positive results in January, and perhaps even bear some fruit by the time the postseason rolls around.

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.