Most programs after graduating one of the nation’s top players would experience a dip in productivity. The Olympia High School boys basketball team are not like most programs.

Olympia junior Parker Gerrits pushes the ball up court during the Bears’ league home game against Bethel. Photo credit: Grant Clark

“We talked about reloading this season. We lost a lot from last year,” Bears head coach John Kiley said. “Everyone is in a new positon this year. Everyone. But they put in so much strength and mental training to prepare themselves, we expected big success.

That’s exactly what Olympia has achieved.

The Bears entered the season with one glaring question: how do you replace a gifted senior class headlined by McDonald’s All-American and 2020-21 Gatorade Washington Boys Basketball Player of the Year Jackson Grant?

Well, the truth is, you don’t. The 6-foot-10 Grant is now a freshman playing at the University of Washington. And while Kiley and his coaching staff didn’t have any near 7-foot-tall multi-dimensional Division I talents to plug into the starting lineup this year, the Bears have done just fine behind an extremely gifted junior class, featuring a pair of players in Mason Juergens and Parker Gerrits, who both have deep family roots running through the program.

A year after winning the South Puget Sound League championship and two years after placing fourth at the Class 4A state tournament, Olympia has once again positioned itself for another deep postseason run.

Olympia junior Mason Juergens draws a foul as he drives the lane. Photo credit: Grant Clark

The Bears finished the regular season with a 19-4 record, finishing as the SPSL tournament runner-up.

Both lofty feats, according to Juergens, were expected by the players, but not necessarily by their classmates.

“People around our school had low expectations for us this year because Jackson was leaving and a lot of seniors graduated,” Juergens said. “So, we had low expectations from people on the outside, but internally we just stayed focused, worked hard every day and tried to be the best we could be. It takes a lot of work, but we just stay connected as a team.”

For Juergens and Gerrits it was rather easy to find the motivation to bring the team together to excel on the court. Few individuals take more pride and understand the tradition that comes with wearing the blue and white jersey as both players have long-standing family ties to Olympia athletic programs.

The Bears finished second in the South Puget Sound League this year and will take a 19-4 record into the district tournament. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Juergens’ father, Marty, was a senior on Kiley’s first ever team at Olympia back in 1992. His uncle, Chris, helped the Bears to a second-place finish at the 1998 3A state basketball tournament and was an all-state football player, while aunt, Kathleen, was a three-sport standout and two-time Black Hills League MVP in soccer. Both Juergens’ uncle and aunt are members of the Olympia High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Gerrits’ father, Ryan, was a 1990 Olympia graduate, playing basketball for the Bears and is a long-time assist coach with both the boys’ and girls’ program.

“Olympia is just as important to them as it is to me and their fathers,” said Kiley, an Olympia grad himself who was the starting point guard as a senior on the Bears’ 1986 3A state title team. “They’ve been born and bred around this program. They set the tone for our basketball community and the community at large here.”

And the tone this year as once again been one of success.

Andreas Engholm, one of several standout juniors on the team, throws down a dunk against Bethel. Photo credit: Grant Clark

“All teams are special and every year each team has its own story, its own path. We’re not last year’s team, but we are capable of doing something very special this year,” said Gerrits, who scored a game-high 24 points in Olympia’s 73-58 loss to Curtis in the SPSL championship. “This team’s chemistry goes back a long way. We have very strong bonds. We’re hanging out off the court more than we are on the court.”

So, just how good can this group of Bears be as the playoffs start up?

“I don’t know if we have a ceiling,” Juergens said. “We’re still learning as a team. A lot of people took on new roles this year, but everyone is getting better every day.”

“We can go as high as we want to,” added Gerrits. “We just need to put the work in and play our way.”

Parker Gerrits (No. 22) applies some full-court defensive pressure. Photo credit: Grant Clark

In addition to Gerrits and Juergens, Olympia’s roster also features fellow juniors Andreas Engholm, Connor Johnson, Cree Barna and Parker Fouts, seniors Shea Byrnes, Konnor Kooi and Caden Roth, sophomores Drew Carlson and Wesley Brewer, and freshmen Matt Lindbloom and Blake Peterson.

“This is a great team. They really care about each other and have invested a lot of time in the season, but even more outside the season,” Kiley said. “They have great friendships. Friendships that span decades. We are pretty serious about what our goals are and what we want to do, but I think they do a nice job of putting the work in and then having fun and celebrating when we do have success.”

The Bears enter the 4A District 3/4 tournament as the No. 3 seed and will face the Tahoma (10-7) at home on Saturday, February 12. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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