Sports

A race to the top

Just a few minutes into a preseason practice, the Pirate men - veterans and newbies - were throwing down dunks and grinning ear to ear.

It's good to be kings.

To defend their North Division crown, however, the Peninsula men are going to need more than rim rattling from its big men, a fact not lost on Pirate coach Peter Stewart.

"It's not a big man's league; it's definitely guard-oriented," said Stewart, who in his sixth season in Port Angeles last year guided the Pirates to a 13-3 conference mark, 25 overall wins and a fourth-place finish at the NWAACC tournament.

To repeat, he'll have to replace one of the top guard-post combos in school history in Dominick Lozano and Clay Greenland.

Lozano tore up the nets for 17.8 points per game, much on the strength of a team-high 106 three-pointers. Greenland was the North Division MVP, tallying 19.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and two steals per game. The Pirates also lost experienced guards Ernie Grimes and Christian Harris to graduation.

Not to worry: the Pirates see the return of starter Jesse Bean, a 5-foot 11-inch point guard from Wasilla, Alaska. Bean led the team with 111 assists and chipped in 8.8 points per game.

On the inside, sophomores Chidi Antoinne and Cody Smithson look to replace Greenland's efforts. A 6-foot 5-inch forward, Antoinne contributed four points and four rebounds in limited action, and second on the team in blocks (16). Smithson, a 6-foot 3-inch Port Angeles grad and swing forward/guard, collected five points, three rebounds and a steal per game, hitting more than 50 percent of his field goal tries.

Cody Killian is Peninsula's sharpest shooter from three-point range. The 6-foot 1-inch Utah native sank nearly half (21 of 45, 47-percent) of his long-range shots.

Other returnees give the Pirates a solid rotation off the bench. Australian Dion Serras, who at 6 feet, 7 inches is Peninsula's tallest player but plays more like a wing shooter than a post, played less than five minutes a contest last season and figures to see more court time this winter.

Jacob Green, a 6-foot 4-inch explosive forward who showed promise in limited time last season, and Harmeet Mahal, a 6-foot guard from Canada, shrugged off academic issues to get eligible for this season.

"I like the way our sophomores came back (from the off-season)," Stewart said. "They worked hard."

The Pirates' strength, however, may lie in hitherto unknown quantities. Stewart's 2008-2009 recruits are long, lean and athletic.

Peninsula's big recruits include: 6-foot 6-inch Jordan Collins from Las Vegas, 6-foot 4-inch Colton Worley of Chimacum, 6-foot 3-inch Christian Manzanza of Belgium and 6-foot 5-inch Buddy Schumacher, a Port Angeles High School graduate.

Other rookies include: Jake Langston, a 6-foot 2 inch guard from Rogers High School in Puyallup; Eddie Oduho, a 6-foot 1-inch guard from Kenya; and Jake Pappuleas, a 5-foot 11-inch guard from Gig Harbor that Bean says is making a strong impression as a freshman.

"He just makes everybody get into it," Bean says of Pappuleas.

Fans are likely to be into the Pirates' style of play. Bean said his new teammates often finish with a flourish above the rim.

"I just throw it near the basket - they'll put it down," the sophomore guard says.

"We're more athletic than we have been in the past," Stewart admits.

Lanky, athletic athletes - the kind Peninsula sees in this year's new crop - aren't always the best rebounders. Still, the Pirates made do last year with a similar line-up: P.C. out-rebounded opponents by more than three rebounds each game (38-35).

"Rebounding is going to have to be a key for us," Stewart says.

Top competition for Peninsula in a strong North Division remains a trio of juggernauts: Bellevue, Everett and Whatcom. Those three squads and Peninsula finished 49-15 in conference play and 82-31 overall last season, with all four finishing in the NWAACC tourney top eight.

Stewart said he asks his freshmen which is the toughest team on the schedule.

Then he points to his own team's name.

"We've got to be the toughest team on our schedule," Stewart said. "We have to do all that stuff better than they do."

Last year, particularly at home, the Pirates were exactly that. Peninsula was unbeaten in 13 home games in 2008-2009 and 27-2 in the past three seasons

"We just can't get people to come up to play here anymore," Stewart says.

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