By David Bashore
Herald sports reporter
A fresh start with new challenges awaits third-year coach Nate Williams and his Stanfield boys basketball program as they prepare for their season opener.
After finishing third in the Columbia Basin Conference last season and reaching the first round of the 2A state playoffs, the Tigers are in the unique position of having to almost completely overhaul the squad the very next season.
Gone to graduation are key cogs from last year's team like Tyler Gabriel, Jason Flemmer and Kyle Sobotta, and no less than 10 other members of Stanfield's basketball program all to graduation.
Anytime a prep team loses 13 players from one season to the next, it's bound to take a hit on the squad as a whole, not only in experience but in general numbers as well.
However, Williams has the small comfort of being able to replace those departed seniors, at least in the form of live bodies.
"It's going to be interesting," Williams said. "We lost 13 seniors, but we have 14 freshmen coming in, and hopefully we can keep all of them coming out."
Despite the massive losses, Stanfield still returns three players with significant experience in junior Matt Ellis and seniors Tyler Watson and Marc Mills, and it will be incumbent upon that trio to hold down the fort, in regards to leadership, while the rest of the players feel their way along in a full varsity season.
Mills, however, is out until mid-December at the earliest due to a knee injury sustained midway through the Stanfield football season.
While the Tigers might have reasonable experience returning despite the mass graduation of almost half their program's players, one thing they don't have a whole lot of is height.
At 6-foot-1, Ellis and fellow junior Casey Irving are the tallest players on the roster, which potentially will provide some matchup problems defensively.
To that end, it will require a lot more reliance on hard work than athleticism, at least in the beginning, for Stanfield to have success.
"A lot of it is going to come from hard work and heart this year," Williams said. "We're real small, so post play and rebounding is going to be a problem for us."
Despite the obvious vulnerabilities at this stage in the pre-season, Williams believes that the league is reasonably open for any team to force their way into the district tournament and perhaps the state tournament, unlike in past years where there were a few distinct favorites.
Nevertheless, he carries no immediate concern for wins and losses in the non-conference season, instead choosing to focus on what's most important, which is making sure the team is playing its best basketball at the end of the season.
"I think if we work hard and continue to improve each week, the wins and losses aspect will take care of itself," Williams said.
Stanfield begins play with a home game against Imbler on Dec. 1.