SVSJ preview: CHS girls basketball, in new conference landscape, looks ready to battle
Cedarcrest High School’s girls’ basketball program is set for its first foray back in the Wesco Conference after 20-some odd years, and while the team is young this winter, the Red Wolves appeared prepared to face the much tougher tests that await.
Brad Knowles returns for his eighth season at the helm of the Red Wolves. This past year, the squad went 17-6 overall, 16-4 in Cascade Conference play and made it into the Northwest 2A District playoffs, falling just short of a return trip to state. One of the heroes of that state run under Knowles a few seasons back will be assisting him this season. Kalee Boak (Fowler), a 2014 CHS alum who had four successful seasons with Northwest University in Kirkland, takes over as lead varsity assistant and junior varsity coach, replacing Mike Pluschke, who resigned over the summer.
Knowles is thrilled to have Boak on board. “She helped coach in our select program the last two years and when Mike Pluschke stepped down this summer, having Kalee step in was a great fit. She knows my system and the kids love her,” he told us by email.
The program’s top returner this fall is sophomore Jaylin Yowell, and the coach expects a ton from her this season. “She has worked very hard in the off-season, grown about an inch, has put on some muscle, and is probably even quicker,” Knowles told us. “She’ll be a force this season.” She will be joined by fellow sophomores Sidra Griffin, Rose Carlson, Emme Rezoski, Grace McKenzie, Ava Erhardt and Ava LaPorte. Junior Helena Van Ess, younger sister of CHS grad – and current Skagit Valley College player Mieke – is the Red Wolves’ lone junior this season. Knowles expects her to be a top presence at the wing position this winter.
There are just a pair of seniors on the team. Cassidy Sweeney will share captain’s duties with Yowell, and Katelynn Smith. Knowles expects Smith to perhaps be a wild card factor this season. “She has a pretty outside shot and when she gets hot, she can fill the basket up quick.”
The Townley name is a familiar one to CHS girls’ basketball fans, and that will continue this winter. Out is Elaine after her graduation following last season and in is her younger sister Kat as the team’s lone freshman. “Kat is a great shooter and a solid defender,” Knowles said. Their older sister, LuAnn, also excelled with the Red Wolve state tournament team from a few seasons ago. Both LuAnn and Elaine are attending school at Hillsdale College in Michigan, and one can expect Kat will probably follow that same path. Whether that path will include basketball is a bit early to tell yet, but a good freshman season will go a long way toward establishing that opportunity for her down the road.
Joining Wesco has its challenges, according to Knowles, but they’re ready. “We know that moving to Wesco is basically jumping up two classifications in competition and we have to work harder than ever before. We had a great off-season….tournaments and leagues both summer and fall, weight-training and a good summer camp at WWU. This team is the youngest team I’ve had in my 8 years at Cedarcrest…2 seniors, 1 junior, 7 sophomores and 1 freshman. That in itself will be tough and then to compete in Wesco makes this upcoming season very challenging. Being so young will help us down the road and our JV (mostly freshmen) is full of talented kids, plus we have some great 8th grade kids coming up too,” he told us.
This program may be one of the few at CHS that already came into the season with a working knowledge of the conference, and that could prove beneficial in their first season in it. “I’m familiar with some of the Wesco teams as we have played them in summer ball. There are some very strong teams out there…Edmonds-Woodway was 22-4 last year and had no seniors, Snohomish and Shorecrest are always tough, Arlington is super strong, Archbishop Murphy who finished second in state last year graduated 6 seniors (5 of which are playing college ball now), but have re-loaded their team and has league MVP Emily Rodabaugh back. I think we can beat teams like Mountlake Terrace, Oak Harbor, and the schools from Marysville. But every game will be a challenge because of our youth,” Knowles told us. Each team will play each other once in the new league format, and Knowles has also scheduled some Wesco 4A teams such as Monroe and Mount Vernon to ensure that their schedule fully prepares the players for postseason.