To achieve the goal of playing at their highest potential, a high school coach will often motivate his team by dangling a carrot out ahead of them – winning a league championship, redemption after an agonizing loss or earning a state title.
For this year’s Cedar Park Christian – Mountlake Terrace Lions boys basketball team, it’s hard to distinguish between the goal of playing well and the motivation for it.
The Lions, led by third-year Coach Scott Moe, are 19-0 this year and will try to close out a perfect 2017-2018 regular season on Monday, Jan. 29, when they host the Providence Classical Christian Highlanders.
But an undefeated season mark of 20-0 and all it would bring in postseason tournament berths isn’t even a catalyst for Moe and his Lions’ squad this year.
“I know it sounds like coach-speak and that, but we preach it everyday: we’re just competing against us and how good we can be,” Moe explained.
And good they are. The Lions have torn through both their 1B Northwest League and non-league opponents this season. The team’s average winning margin is almost 39 points per game and they are ranked no. 5 in the WIAA 1B boys basketball state RPI (rating percentage index).
CPC-MLT are expected to get their 20th win on Monday (Providence Classical Christian is 0-14 this season). The team will go on to be heavy favorites in the both the 1B District 1 and 1B Tri-District tournaments in February and have their sights set on the 1A Hardwood Classic state championships March 1-3 in Spokane.
But achieving postseason glory isn’t even on the mind of the Lions’ players right now.
“We set one goal and that was just to be our best,” said senior Erwin Weary. “Our coach sees a lot of potential in us, so much potential that we don’t see it (in ourselves), but he sees it. That’s why he pushes us, because he sees so much potential in us.”
When asked about win and loss totals or goals for the postseason, Weary waved off the questions. “We’ve got one more game left in the regular season against Providence – I don’t even know what their record is,” he said. “We don’t talk about teams’ records; we just play.”
Weary’s play has been spectacular this year: the 6-4 point guard is averaging 30 points and almost 10 rebounds per game for the Lions.
While Weary’s numbers could be enough to carry a team, the Lions are not one-trick felines. In the front-court seniors Jaide St. Lewis and Ryan Maxwell combine for an average of more than 17 rebounds and four blocks per game while guards Jacob Catey, Jacob Schley and Dustin Kaneda add more quickness and substance to the back court.
Moe recognizes that his squad is blessed to have such a strong contingent playing at the 1B level for schools with enrollment of less than 90 students.
“We have a great combination of a phenomenal, highly-skilled ball handler/scorer in Erwin; we’ve got some big guys in Jaide and Ryan that have some size to them; and we’ve got some guards who can handle the ball and can shoot it a little bit,” Moe stated. “For our classification that’s a pretty good combo.”
Even with such a talented team, Moe insists there have been no goals set for total of wins this year or achievements to strive for in the postseason.
“We don’t do that; I don’t believe in that,” Moe stressed.
Last year’s Lions finished the regular season at 17-3 and went on to qualify for the WIAA 1B State Boys Basketball Tournament. But a tough 70-65 defeat to Odessa-Harrington in the regional round of the tourney – in what was practically a home game for CPC-MLT played at Mountlake Terrace High School – kept the team from moving on to Spokane and ended the year on a sour note. Moe asserts that loss wasn’t even brought up as a motivating tool for this year’s squad.
“We never talked about that; that was never addressed,” Moe contended. “We’ve never talked about wins or losses. We’ve just talked about the concept of ‘let’s compete against how good we can be.’”
Moe also stresses the importance of staying focused on the present. For a basketball team, that means understanding the situation apart from what may have just occurred and the emotions that it may have stirred up.
“We have a saying: W-I-N, what’s important now,” Moe explained. “When a ref makes a bad call or when we turn the ball over, ‘what’s important now.’ Get to the next play… The guys have really bought in and are understanding what it means to stay in the moment.”
Moe and the team did let the emotions flow after a big win on Friday. The Lions defeated the Tulalip Heritage Hawks 58-54 to clinch the Northwest League 1B regular season title and then celebrated in the locker room afterwards.
“We were just having fun, splashing water everywhere. It was really fun,” Weary said.
“These kids have worked hard,” Moe added. “The coaching staff has pushed them really hard and they’ve responded well. And it’s been fun to see these guys slowly progress and improve.”
For Weary and his Lions’ teammates, winning a second straight league title was worthy of a locker room celebration but didn’t represent just how good the team can be.
“We still have work to do,” Weary concluded.
–Story and photos by Doug Petrowski