Vikings’ senior crew has high hoops hopes

POULSBO — Last year’s North Kitsap boys’ basketball season resembled that of a certain Northwest baseball team: an awe-inspiring regular season, followed by a playoff fizzle. After winning 15 games in a row last year and going 15-5 overall, the Vikings dropped two straight in the playoffs, losing to Kentwood and Federal Way.

POULSBO — Last year’s North Kitsap boys’ basketball season resembled that of a certain Northwest baseball team: an awe-inspiring regular season, followed by a playoff fizzle.

After winning 15 games in a row last year and going 15-5 overall, the Vikings dropped two straight in the playoffs, losing to Kentwood and Federal Way.

This year, the Vikings hope to rewrite that third act.

“We have a core group that’s been together for three years,” head coach Bob Fronk said at a recent practice. “We’ve been through wins, losses, close games, overtime games …”

Fronk thinks that experience, aided by a balanced scoring effort, can help the Vikings reach districts again — and this time put a check mark in the win column.

The Vikings go into the season with a pair of obstacles. The first is to find a replacement for the scoring of graduated shooting guard Marc McNall, who led the Vikings in scoring (18.3 a game in the regular season) and gave North Kitsap an important offensive spark with his playmaking.

“We’ll be more balanced on offense this year,” Fronk said. “Marc was a go-to guy; he accounted for 60 or 70 percent of our offense. But we have four or five capable of scoring in double figures.”

Those players are led by 6’9” center Bryan Haupt, a talented jump shooter and post player who averaged 14 points a game last season and will be expected to rebound as well; wing player Jerrod Gonzales, who stepped up in several important games last season; Thomas Jordan, an energy source who Fronk said will be a strong fixture in the rotation; and Justin Vestman, a callup from junior varsity who Fronk said has worked hard and improved his game.

But one of the most essential Vikings, point guard Josh Mathews, will begin the season on the bench.

Mathews contracted mononucleosis right before tryouts began, and the Vikings will have to play two or three games without his steady play at the point.

“I have faith in the other guys,” Fronk said, “but he’s battle-tested. He gives us an outside threat, and he’s deceptive. He lulls people to sleep.”

Mathews will have to get in the required 10 practices before he plays, but it isn’t as if he’d been sleeping through the summer. Mathews competed in summer tournaments with Vikings such as Jordan, Gonzales, Haupt, and others, claiming a final four finish at Highline Community College and Tacoma Community College.

“If you play year round, you get better every game,” Mathews said. “That’ll help us in game situations.”

The Vikings will also be helped by the play of Sean Kelly, an addition Fronk said will help the team’s frontline depth; Reid Ammann, an “up and coming” junior who can play many positions; versatile Devin Reed, who will provide strength and rebounding; the talented Chad Foster, fresh off a season as the Vikings’ quarterback, who Fronk said has a lot of talent; sophomore David Brillhart, who Fronk has dubbed a pleasant surprise, is armed with speed and quickness; and newcomer Patrick Gilbert, who could be a consistent defensive stopper for the Vikings.

Fronk thinks the team’s cohesiveness will make it blend quickly and effectively as a group. With Haupt manning the post and Mathews handling the ball, and solid play elsewhere on the court and along the bench, he thinks the team could return to the postseason.

“I want a great finish for our seniors. I’d like to challenge for the Narrows League title,” he said.

He added, “If we don’t get taken seriously, that’s fine. We’ll sneak up on some people.”

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