PORT ORCHARD — On a Saturday morning practice with still a week to go before South Kitsap opened its regular season, an intra-varsity scrimmage was brimming with all the intensity of a late-season matchup with a postseason berth on the line.
When it comes to basketball, or ping pong, or really any activity, the Wolves are a competitive group. Especially since, in this case, the “punishment” for the losing team was having to participate in a conditioning drill — dribbling from the baseline to each subsequent line on the court and back in under 34 seconds.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” South Kitsap head coach John Callaghan said.
South Kitsap is young, but they are athletic, long, competitive and skilled. The returning players consist of a group of juniors and sophomores who received at least some varsity time last year, led by captains junior guard Jackson Kambich, junior point guard Riley Escolta and sophomore forward Kyler Kelso.
The Wolves also have 6-foot-7 big man Tyler Schmidt returning from last year’s varsity roster, along with skilled wing Deante Ward and the smooth sophomore point guard Eli Mackie.
There are also several exciting newcomers such as sophomore Gavin Morkert, a 6-foot-2 wing player, who has received rave reviews from both his coach and teammates, junior Donavin Grant, a 5-foot-11 guard, and junior point guard Josh Potz.
And they are ready to put themselves to the test in the always competitive 4A South Puget Sound League. The season kicks off with a home game on Dec. 1 at South Kitsap against Olympia.
Last year, South Kitsap finished sixth with a 7-9 league record (7-14 overall, which includes losses in the Coeur d’Alene tournament played over Christmas break) and lost in the first round of the West Central District 3 playoffs. But the returning varsity players were part of a team that scored league victories over Bellarmine, Sumner and Puyallup along with sweeps of Graham-Kapowsin and Rogers.
“There are no nights off in the SPSL,” Callaghan said. “And our non-league schedule is pretty brutal, too.”
It includes a return to the Coeur d’Alene Invitational and a non-league game against a top-flight Peninsula team. After Christmas, Callaghan predicts his team will be “pretty tough” to play against.
Indeed, if Saturday’s practice was any indication, the Wolves will be aggressive in pressuring the opposition at both ends of the court, using their speed and athleticism to their advantage.
“We’ll be up on the other team,” said Kambich. “We’ll constantly be looking for steals and fast breaks.”
The Wolves will be exciting to watch; and if the team jells quickly, Kambich said his team should compete near the top of the league and get a chance to return to the district tournament.
“Practice is the most important thing; coach preaches that,” Kelso said following that Saturday morning session. “You have to practice like you play.”
Schedule: Dec. 1, 7 p.m., Olympia | Dec. 7, 7 p.m., Sumner | Dec. 9, 7 p.m., Emerald Ridge | Dec. 12, 7 p.m. at Curtis | Dec. 15, 7 p.m., Graham-Kapowsin | Dec. 19, 7 p.m. at Bellarmine Prep | Dec. 20, 7 p.m., Peninsula | Dec. 28, TBD, Coeur d’Alene Invitational | Jan. 3, 7 p.m., Rogers | Jan. 5, 7 p.m., at Puyallup | Jan. 9, 7 p.m., at Olympia | Jan. 13, 7 p.m. at Sumner | Jan. 16, 7 p.m., at Emerald Ridge | Jan. 19, 7 p.m., Curtis | Jan. 23, 7 p.m., at Graham-Kapowsin | Jan. 26, 7 p.m., Bellarmine Prep | Jan. 30, 7 p.m. at Rogers | Feb. 1, 7 p.m., Puyallup.
Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group.