Junior varsity turns season around, wins eight in league

Three freshmen were the final components to complete an exceptional boys junior varsity basketball formula.

The junior varsity finished its non-league schedule 7-6. In league play, the team lost only two games, both to Stayton.

“We did very well, especially in league,” Coach Tim Little said. “We went into league one game over .500. We brought up three freshmen. Just chemistry-wise, they made the difference.”

They filled certain spots on the team, Coach Little said. They didn’t do anything special except to change the chemistry of the team.

The three freshmen, Ryan Elliott, Cody Shipp and Charlie Fitzsimmons, started out playing two quarters. Later Fitzsimmons and Shipp went full time junior varsity. Elliott was playing forward, but the junior varsity team was loaded with posts and Coach Little didn’t want to completely strip the freshmen, so Elliott continued playing three quarters on the freshman team.

“We also had two sophomores really step up during league,” Coach Little said. “That would be Matt Morneault, who was our JV player of the year, and Garrett Kauffman (guard).”

Kauffman led junior varsity scoring. During league, without including the last two games, he averaged more than two three pointers per game. Coach Little said he’s one of the best shooters he’s ever had at the junior varsity level.

Both Kauffman and Morneault played some varsity ball.

“Matt Morneault was just a leader,” Coach Little said. “He did all the little things, rebounding, getting us organized…. He just played like a senior would on the JV team. He’s going to be a great leader — Not necessarily the highest points per game, but he’s going to be a great leader. That’s one of the reasons kids voted him MVP. He was there all the time for us.”

The freshmen brought a long history playing together and winning to the junior varsity, Coach Little said. “It didn’t cross their minds of losing. They always expected to come out on top no matter how much time is left. It was unusual having freshmen fill that kind of role.”

The junior varsity team included Alex Ritzman, Morneault, Kauffman, Elliott, Fitzsimmons, Shipp, Jeremy Fisher, Aaron Forquer, Mark Lewis, Ravi Patel, Ronak Patel and Andy Worley.

The team was positive and competitive, Coach Little said. “They didn’t really have a special type of style. Their defense, by far, is what won our games.”

Not an offense-oriented team, they helped opponents in the pre-season to just 27 points per game. During the same time period, they averaged 30 to 40 turnovers per game though Once league started, they held opponents to 33 points or less, and their turnover total dropped.

“(League) was a total turnaround,” Coach Little said. They won their last two non-league games. “Before we knew it, we had won four or five in a row. They overachieved big time.”

The team, starting two freshmen and three sophomores, faced many teams six or seven juniors deep, Coach Little said. “They were just fearless.”

Among season highlights, Coach Little recalls a game at Cascade in the second half of league play. The Huskies were headed into the game with one loss to Stayton. Cascade had just defeated Stayton. If they could get the win, it would give them a shot at the league title.

With 30 seconds left, the Huskies were down two, Coach Little said. Ravi Patel won that game. He put down a bucket stole the ball and dished it to Fitzsimmons for another two to win.

“They knew what had to be done,” Coach Little said. “Every game was very close, but you never got the feeling you were going to lose.”

This was a team that started with about a half-dozen losses, then the whole thing started clicking, Coach Little said. This team’s impact on the program is “right around the corner.”

At this point, there are four or five athletes on the junior varsity squad that could compete for varsity spots on a varsity team that loses only two players. Coach Little thinks that will push next year’s seniors and varsity players harder to achieve.

At the beginning of the year, the sophomores on the team weren’t ready to move up, but after this year, they’ve got a feeling for what it takes, Coach Little said. “They all knew their roles, and they played to it. It definitely was one of my most fun seasons.”