Sports

Pirate men seek playoff return

After a five-year run atop or near the top of their division, the Pirates slipped to a sixth-place finish in the NWAACC North last season.

The term "rebuilding" around Peninsula's proud program, then, may not be the kind of cursed word it normally is in other preseason camps.

Peninsula brings back three players from last season - uber-athletic Christian Manzanza, strong post Jordan Collins and versatile Colton Worley, a Chimacum grad - plus former Sequim standout Ryan Rutherford, who played for the Pirates in a limited role back in 2005-2006.

Filling out the rest of the roster are a number of long, lean bodies from Alaska, Federal Way and five players from Utah, a number of whom have spent time away from the basketball court to fulfill church missions.

The best thing about this group, Peninsula head coach Peter Stewart says, is that they are coachable and yearn to play the right way.

"Every year in junior colleges, you get a chance to start fresh," Stewart said, watching his 11-man crew work out in a preseason practice. "We like the group of kids. They have a better attitude (than last year's team). There are a lot of roles not defined yet."

Lost from the 2008-2009 campaign to graduation is do-it-all sophomore Jesse Bean. The point guard led the Pirates in scoring (16.1), assists (3.5) and steals (1.7). P.C. also lost its top big man in Chidi Antoinne (7.5 rebounds per game, team-high 24 blocks) along with Port Angeles grad Cody Smithson (8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds) and top long-range threat Cody Killian (54 three-pointers).

But the Pirates do get back Manzanza, who was second on the team in blocks (18) and averaged a solid 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 points per game in a limited role.

Collins, a 6-foot 6-inch forward from Las Vegas, showed flashes of talent and strength and averaged two points and two rebounds in about six minutes per game. He led the Pirates in field goal percentage (48 percent).

At 6 feet and 4 inches, Worley gives the Pirates another tall, athletic body forward who can get a shot outside the key.

Rutherford, a 6-foot combo guard, averaged 2.7 points per game and was fourth on the team with 10 three-pointers for a team that went 18-10.

Stewart enters his seventh year at Peninsula as the winningest coach in Pirate men's basketball history. Under Stewart, the Pirates have amassed more than 110 wins and won 90 percent of their home games.

After a five-year strong run between 2003-2008 that saw Peninsula accumulate a 62-18 conference record, a 43-5 home mark and four top-eight finishes at the NWAACC tournament, the Pirates simply fizzled in 2008-2009.

Peninsula dropped four of its last five conference games and missed the tourney altogether, just the second time since Stewart took over the Pirates and first since his first season at Peninsula.

Stewart put the blame for the Pirates' drop fully on his own shoulders.

"Maybe complacency sets in, like we expect (success) to happen," Stewart said. "I don't blame the kids. I'm the coach. It's on me."

The Pirate lineup features 5-foot 10-inch Jordan Rawls, who helped his Decatur (Federal Way) Gators take sixth at the 2008 class 4A state tournament.

Bryce Jacobson, a 6-foot 4-inch guard/forward from Colony, Alaska, was an all-state honorable mention in 2008-2009 and was a sprinter, hurdler and high jumper in the spring track & field season at Colony High School.

A number of players have spent a couple of years away from the court. Stewart said he expects his team to be "exponentially better" in January than right now.

As for overall team strengths, Stewart likes the fact that his team is a bit more physically and mentally mature than other teams featuring fresh-out-of-high-school rosters.

"I think there's an understanding of what has to be done," he said.



Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

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