News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Wolverine boys basketball looking to rebuild

The 2022-23 Santiam High boys basketball squad won the 11-team Tri-River Conference title with a 13-2 record. The Wolverines finished 20-8 overall after advancing to the Class 2A state tournament in Pendleton with a playoff upset on the road at Gold Beach.

Santiam was a spunky, entertaining team to watch, with versatile wing players Ezra Downey, Quentin Clark and Gage Twede running the court and firing up three-pointers, Jesse Dana and Trenton Clifford banging in the paint and Xavier Vital emphasizing defense and playmaking.

J.D. Hill
J.D. Hill

Only Vital returns from that veteran team and 11th-year coach J.D. Hill told The Canyon Weekly “this is a very young team with a lot of potential to do great things, but we will need to go through some growing pains this year to get there.” 

Vital, a 5-foot-10-inch junior, “is the only one that played consistent minutes on last season’s team. He was known last year for his passing abilities on offense and his defensive effort. I think this year you will see him expand his overall game.”

Varsity veterans who played mainly junior varsity minutes a year ago include junior Owen Rupert, senior Esai Romero, and sophomore Colt Twede. 

Also in the mix, Hill said are Ace Aerni, Kross Martinson, and Kace Martinson, “all freshmen that should be able to contribute on varsity right away.”

Turnout is at 29 players.

The Tri-River will have 12 teams this season. Joining the Wolverines are Blanchet Catholic, Chemawa, Colton, Culver, Delphian, Gervais, Kennedy, Regis, Salem Academy, Western Christian and Willamina. 

Five of those squads, the Wolverines, Kennedy, Regis, Salem Academy and Western Christian, advanced to the 2A tournament in Pendleton, with Academy downing Western in the title match. 

Academy and Kennedy suffered similar graduation losses to those of the Wolverines.

“Western Christian and Regis have lots of talent returning plus plenty of new recruits,” Hill said. “Willamina will also have a top team in the state.  

“I think we will make the league playoffs, but there is a big gap between us and those teams at this point.”

The Wolverines open the 2023-24 season on Friday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the Silver Cross Tournament at East Linn Christian in Lebanon. Santiam will tangle with the host Eagles. 

The Wolverines open their grueling 16-game Tri-River Conference season on Jan. 3 at Willamina.

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