Part of the preparation for North Kitsap’s boys basketball team heading to the Class 2A state tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome on Wednesday included removing the championship trophy from the school’s display case.
The Vikings earned that trophy two years ago when they became the first Kitsap County basketball team since Olympic in 1983 to claim a state title. Now, it heads back to Yakima to be awarded to this year’s champion on Saturday night.
If No. 1 seed North Kitsap (22-3) has its way, the trophy will be making a quick return back to Poulsbo.
“We’re not letting it go, we just have to move it for a couple days and then we are bringing it back,” North Kitsap senior Johny Olmsted said.
North Kitsap, which began its road trip Wednesday morning with a sendoff at the high school, is in a much different place heading to state this year than in 2020. The Vikings recently captured the West Central/Sea-King Bi-District title and earned a first-round state bye with a 73-42 regional win over Sehome. North Kitsap opens state tournament play Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between No. 7 Port Angeles and No. 10 Franklin Pierce.
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Two years ago, North Kitsap headed to Yakima having lost two consecutive games, including a 60-55 defeat against Tumwater in regional play. Vikings head coach Scott Orness remembers being inside the team’s locker room at Mount Tahoma High School following that loss.
“Tumwater was celebrating for like 10 straight minutes,” Orness said. “(Our players) started getting their stuff on and I’m like, ‘No, don’t untie your shoes. I want you to sit here and listen.’ We sat there through a paper-thin wall and listened to them just say all kinds of stuff about us.”
“It was brutal,” Olmsted said. “We sat in there for 10 minutes in silence. Those walls were so thin, we could hear them going crazy. I think that got our fuel going.”
North Kitsap responded by winning four consecutive games at state against Selah, White River, Lynden and Clarkston.
The roadmap to a title this week involves winning three games instead of four, but that doesn’t mean the Vikings are expecting to cruise into Saturday’s championship game. A quarterfinal game against Port Angeles could be a barn-burner.
The two Olympic League foes played twice during the regular season: North Kitsap stormed back from a 15-point deficit to win 76-74 in Poulsbo on Jan. 27, while Port Angeles won the rematch 80-63 in Port Angeles on Feb. 10. The 80 points is the most North Kitsap has allowed in a game all season.
There’s not a team that knows North Kitsap better than Port Angeles — and vice versa. If it turns out to be the Vikings facing the Roughriders in the round of eight, so be it.
“We have played them twice and we’ve learned things each time and now it’s time to make some adjustments and get the kids to buy in and have them go out and do it,” Orness said.
Orness said the loss to Port Angeles motivated the Vikings to make mental and physical adjustments on the defensive end of the floor, such as not gambling for high-risk steals.
“We had a little bit of a wakeup call,” Orness said. “We’ve been telling them all year, ‘Don’t create bad habits.'”
Stressing positional awareness, Orness said two of his team’s top defensive efforts have come in the past two games: prior to holding Sehome to 42 points in regional play, North Kitsap topped White River 49-38.
Heading into state, Orness said the team’s priority has to be defending its own net.
“If we want to win this, this is about defense,” Orness said. “Offense will take care of itself. It’s about us playing hard-nosed, stay-in-front, contest-every-shot defense.”
Olmsted feels his team is up for the challenge.
“The most intimidating thing you can see on the court is when you have all five guys on your defense, hands up, talking like crazy, knowing what the other team is running, stuff like that,” Olmsted said. “That’s the thing that gets us going. That’s where we have fun.”
With North Kitsap’s coaching staff having acquired film on all the Vikings’ possible state opponents, Orness will use his hotel room in Yakima as team headquarters. Playing one game per day might be daunting for some teams, but Olmsted said the Vikings always feel ready to take the court based on the scouting work done by Orness and top assistants Steven Kirk and Josh Perkins.
“They do so much more than what they are required to do and I think it shows in our record, in our past seasons, how much it pays off,” Olmsted said.
Guiding the 2A team with the biggest target on its back, Orness said the Vikings have done all the right things to put themselves in position to capture another title. He wants to make sure his players enjoy the ride this week, no matter what happens at the finish line.
“We are going to bring it,” Orness said. “I know these guys are going to give it everything they’ve got. They do every time. We are going to prepare like crazy. We are doing all the things we can. You just hope the ball goes in the hole a few more times than the other team.”