Mental aspect of game helps N. Kitsap leader win coach of the year honors

Scott Orness was already well into a successful coaching career entering the 2019-20 season with his North Kitsap Vikings squad.

After 11 years at Bainbridge High School, where he still teaches, he moved across Agate Pass in 2015 and had reached the regional round each year and qualified for the state tournament in the prior three years. But after a couple of disappointing finishes in Yakima, as well as Bainbridge’s loss to O’Dea in the 2007 in the 3A state championship game, he began to look inward.

He felt that his teams had plenty of talent, but hadn’t truly been ready for the big stage, and that responsibility fell on him as the head coach.

“The common denominator was me,” Orness said.

He explained that in the offseason prior to the past campaign, he got into the mental side of the game and coaching, and it paid off. North Kitsap captured the 2A state championship at the Yakima SunDome last March. As a result, the National Federation of State High School Associations has selected him as the Northwest Section Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. The Northwest section includes high school teams in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

The Vikings went 24-4 last year on their way to the title, and there were several moments that reflected his new approach.

During North Kitsap’s improbable comeback over then-No. 1 ranked Lynden in the state semifinals, they ran a play they had seen Burlington-Edison run against Lynden earlier in the tournament. It was successful and that basket pulled the Vikings to within one. Point guard Johny Olmsted believed that play would work again and told his head coach. Orness trusted his player, ran it, and Olmsted scored the layup to put North Kitsap ahead.

The Vikings entered the fourth quarter down 14 points to the two-time defending state champions. They outscored Lynden 29-9 the rest of the way and went 10-for-10 from the field, including 5-for-5 from the 3-point line.

“That just doesn’t happen,” Orness said. “When would that ever happen statistically again? I just don’t know.”

The night prior to that, they had exploded in the second half after scoring a miserable 13 points in the first half against White River. And his players continued to hit big baskets in the state title game against Clarkston. It’s safe to say they were much better prepared to handle the high-pressure situations in the state tourney.

Orness said he also took a page from former NBA player and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr in making sure his players were also having fun and enjoying their time of the floor. He said he gave his players a little more ownership of certain things, such as locker room music or the shoes they could wear, rather than being rigid.

He also took time to have the players visualize hoisting the golden ball trophy and talking about what that might feel like. And they now have first-hand knowledge of how it feels after celebrating their 56-53 win over Clarkston in the championship game.

“To win a state title takes so much,” Orness said. “It’s really about our program we’ve developed; not just at North Kitsap, but also at Bainbridge and all the staff and all the people involved, Bainbridge Roots, Drive basketball — giving kids of all ages lots of opportunities to grow as a player and a person.”