Viking, Warrior JV teams show improvement |

Viking, Warrior JV teams show improvement

David Gignilliat and Steve Yingling

Keeping it in the family seems to be a trend for the South Tahoe High boys basketball program. And quite a successful one at that.

Junior varsity coach Ken Reneer – yet another disciple of 24-year STHS leader Tom Orlich, the dean of South Shore high school coaches – has done his part in maintaining the Viking program’s winning tradition with a promising 18-7 season.

“It’s exciting for me to be coaching these guys,” said Reneer, a member of the Vikings’ 1990 league championship team. “I try to let the kids experience a little bit of what South Tahoe basketball is all about and instill in them that same excitement.”

After a frustrating start to the 98-99 season, the Vikings rallied and picked up steam as the season progressed. South Tahoe compiled a 7-2 league mark, and narrowly missed toppling Fallon Feb. 12 in their final game for the unofficial league title. Reneer pointed to a third-place finish at the Future Stars tournament Dec. 17-19 in Modesto as the turning point in the team’s season.

“It was a real bonding experience for the team,” Veneer said. “A lot of kids come from very different backgrounds. We stayed down there for the three days and really got to know each other better. It pushed us into the league season and really helped us out.”

The Vikings were led this season by a trio of talented sophomores: forward Chris Ortiz, point guard Matt Connelly and center Ryan Griffith. Reneer tabbed Ortiz as the team’s “go-to guy,” an apt title for a player who averaged nearly 25 points a game. Connelly, described as the “heart and soul of the team,” gave Reneer steady minutes at the point and ran the offense with excellent leadership. Griffith was the only sophomore on the varsity team before returning to the JV squad, where he constituted the Vikes’ major inside threat for the remainder of the season.

And don’t think their efforts went unnoticed.

“Orlich is already eying them. They’re on their way to greener pastures and will be competing for varsity jobs next season,” said Reneer, who will sit on the bench for the varsity team’s playoff duel today with Elko. “I know they got some valuable experience at the JV level to propel them to next year.”

While its varsity peers were barely nosed out of the playoffs, the Whittell High Warriors junior varsity boys basketball team quietly pulled off the school’s most successful season since 1991-92.

Decisive victories over Hawthorne and Lovelock last weekend enabled the Warriors to finish second to Manogue in Nevada 3A Division II with an 8-3 record.

Kyle Spingola tossed in 19 points and Bryan Sigel added 12 as Whittell downed the Serpents 60-51 Friday night in Hawthorne. In their home and season finale on Saturday, the Warriors throttled Lovelock 63-47 behind Joel Warnick’s career-high 20 points and Sigel’s 17.

Sigel led the Warriors in division scoring with 15 ponts per contest. Warnick averaged 12, while Luke Forvilly contributed 10 per game.

Considering the Warriors got off to a rough start, the season was quite successful.

“We went 0-10 in December, but we played pretty tough competition. I think that helped us a bit, and the kids kept working at it. By the time we got into league play, the kids gelled pretty well,” said Whittell JV coach John Summers, who directed the Warriors JV when it won the league title in 1991-92.

With many of his successful players moving onto varsity, Summers believes next year’s varsity team should do just fine – even with the graduation of Dusty Apocotos and James Putnam.

“The varsity has five juniors coming back and three or four of them were starters at different times throughout the year. Combined with my kids, most of whom played two years with me, and I think Whittell should be relatively decent next year,” Summers said. “They’ll have 10 or 11 players relatively close in talent competing for playing time, and generally that makes everybody better.”

More players and more wins characterized the Whittell High girls junior varsity basketball season.

First-year Whittell coach Anthony Davis welcomed 17 players in his first venture into basketball coaching. The longtime track/cross country coach adjusted to his new role, producing two more victories than the previous season while keeping players interested in the program. Only one Warrior who came out for the team quit.

“That says a lot that Whittell girls sports have a lot to look forward to in the future. That whole girl atmosphere there is about to change because they don’t quit. They’re in a mode now where they want to play and they’re not going to give up,” said Davis, whose squad was routed 53-22 by Lovelock in its season-finale on Saturday.

“Our team made great improvement from beginning to end. We became more of a second-half team, and that’s probably because of the stressload on conditioning,” said Davis, who emphasized running during the preseason conditioning drills. “Skillwise, we improved from day one to the end.”

Ashley Berns powered the Warriors’ inside game, while Alisha Roth and Jocelyn Matt provided team leadership, according to Davis. Mayra Sanchez led the Warriors with seven points against Lovelock.

Davis’ rookie season showed him that basketball is a sport he wants to continue coaching.

“What made it fun for me is the actual games and the excitement of having a front-row seat to the games,” Davis said. “It gave me the perspective of what coaches go through in a team sport as opposed to track. You have to make split-second decisions. Sometimes they’re the right decisions and other times they’re the wrong decisions. And you’re always trying to make sure every girl on the team gets to experience what you’re experiencing.”

Whittell finished with a 1-9 Division II mark, including a win over Incline.

Wins may have been few and far between for the South Tahoe girls junior varsity basketball team, but effort and perseverance was something coach Chris Morgan saw every day.

“We kind of had a tough year. But the girls played really hard every game, every practice,” said Morgan, a first-year JV coach. “There was never a game where they laid down and quit.”

The Vikings finished the season 1-15, picking up a nondivision win Dec. 17 against crosstown rival Whittell.

Morgan had a pretty young team at his disposal, including several athletes who were playing their first season of organized basketball. Despite the relative inexperience, Morgan noted that several of his players made great strides through the course of the season.

“There were lots of adjustments we had to make,” Morgan said. “There was a lot more learning going on than winning.”

Guard Julie Tam, a sophomore, ran the offense for the Vikes and grew more comfortable as the season progressed, Morgan said.

“She really improved as the year went on,” he said. “She played really competitive basketball. She was very good in the open court.”

Shooting guard Cindy Lopez stepped it up on the offensive end as the season drew on.

“She turned around and started contributing a lot toward the end of the year,” Morgan said. “She started to score more points for us on the offensive end. I think she’s someone who has really developed her outside shot a bit.”

As with many high school varsity sports, attrition and continuity are even more of a problem for JV teams. The junior varsity and freshman teams regularly lose players to the varsity teams and see kids move to other sports, Morgan said.

“I think the freshmen coming up are real athletic, real competitive,” Morgan said. “They had a lot of confidence toward the end of the year, winning some games. I hope that that freshman team can stay together and move on to the next level.”

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