Willapa Valley High School was the last remaining undefeated boys basketball team in the 2B classification this season.
Among the dozen Willapa Valley victims was Northwest Christian.
The Navigators dropped a 51-50 heartbreaker to the Vikings in their 2B Pacific League opener earlieNorthwest Christian boys basketball r in the season. The defeat was especially difficult to swallow given the fact that Northwest Christian enjoyed a double-digit lead on two separate occasions and were playing at home.
The Navigators responded to the setback by winning seven consecutive games. The streak, however, was put to a dramatic end during a 71-37 drubbing at the hands of last year’s league champion Life Christian Academy to open 2019.
After a closer than expected win over South Bend, Northwest Christian head coach Rick Tigges challenged his squad to find its identity. The opportunity to achieve their team goals was still very present. The team just needed to make a decision. Either go through the motions and fade back down into the middle of the league standings like past seasons or put their trust in each other and become the team they were capable of being.
The Navigators chose the latter.
“It’s been so long since we’ve had success in basketball at this school,” said Tigges, who is in his second season with the Navigators. “These kids have never experienced it.”
That is beginning to change.
Despite being without senior post Tony Dominquez, who was sidelined with a knee injury, Northwest Christian registered one of the biggest victories in program history by going on the road and knocking off the Vikings, 60-51, on January 10 to establish themselves as a league contender.
“Last year we had a lot of close games that we lost. We played every team in our league tough, but still finished outside of districts. Even the league champion in their home gym we played them to a 3-point loss,” Tigges said. “Learning how to win and learning how to be the hunter as opposed to the hunted it is a mentality shift. Slowly, but surely we’re making strides with this.”
Tigges called it a complete team win as the Navigators held Willapa Valley under 60 points for just the second time this season, while getting double digit scoring from all five starters in seniors Tyler Fox and Nick Tarabochia and sophomores Davis Yates, Jude Phillips, and Landon Koukal.
“We’ve struggled the past few years with finding our footing,” Dominquez said. “This year we have a returning coach for the first time in a while and we finally have some synergy between the upper classmen and lower classmen. So many things have contributed to this initially success.”
Now, for the first time in a while, there’s an excitement around Navigators basketball. Never is that more evident than during the home pre-game introductions.
Moments after the lights go dark inside the Northwest Christian gym, the PA announcer addresses the crowd by saying, “Welcome to the swamp.”
Students frantically scramble from the stands and make their way onto the court as a lone spotlight fires up while music adds to the festive atmosphere.
After each starter is introduced they make their way through the student gauntlet, high-fiving and greeting their fellow classmates before tipoff.
“I think we’re starting to get a little bit of enthusiasm around here and there should be,” Tigges said. “The kids’ goal is to go to Spokane (to play in the state tournament). We’ve never taken a trophy home in basketball. We’ve talked with them about this. Nothing would make me happier than to see these seniors go out that way.”
It would be a fitting end for Dominguez, Fox, Tarabochia, and fellow senior Salazar-Fox as in a school known for running they all possess one passionate trait.
“This senior class just loves basketball. It hasn’t always been that way around here, but this class just loves playing together,” Fox said. “The past four years, we’ve lost a lot of games by 1 or 2 points, but this year we’ve been kind of clutch and we have those games where we click and beat teams by a large margin. We know we have the potential if everyone is focused.”
At the start of January, Tigges asked his players to “embrace the moment” over the next 30 days. The Navigators close out their regular season at home on January 31 against Life Christian Academy in a game which could determine the league champion.
“I really believe we can play with anyone if we play our game,” said Tigges, whose team won a game against Ocosta this season despite trailing by 10 points with 1 minute, 40 seconds to play. “I believe we have the talent to get to that next level. We’re getting there.”