Neah Bay’s Amber Swan drives around a screen set by teammate Cerise Moss (14) during a Class 1B state tournament quarterfinal against Oakesdale at the Spokane Arena last March. (Byrne Bennett/Cheney Free Press)

Neah Bay’s Amber Swan drives around a screen set by teammate Cerise Moss (14) during a Class 1B state tournament quarterfinal against Oakesdale at the Spokane Arena last March. (Byrne Bennett/Cheney Free Press)

GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Defending state champion Neah Bay girls primed for another run

Aiming for third straight title game appearance

NEAH BAY — After claiming the first state championship in Neah Bay girls basketball history, the Red Devils are eyeing a third straight trip to the Class 1B title game, but now they have a target on their collective back with every opponent they face this season.

“Last year we were hunting everybody, right?” coach Cherish Moss said. “We were going after it. Now we have everybody coming after us. But I feel we are still very determined to get back to where we want to be.”

Neah Bay will have to replace the graduated Allie Greene, the team’s best shooter and scorer from the championship squad with Greene now in the Peninsula College backcourt.

But an experienced group of players returns, headed up by seniors Ryana Moss, Amber Swan and Ezrah Ray.

Swan and Ray played varsity basketball as eighth-graders before the COVID pandemic.

“Amber, Ryana and Ezra they’ve played together as a group for so long through teams and travel tournaments,” Moss said. “They know each other’s games so well and they just mesh together.”

Sophomores Cerise Moss and Angel Halttunen round out the Red Devils’ starting five.

“Collectively, the starters are solid and I’m excited to see their chemistry grow this season,” Moss said.

Two eighth-graders are expected to contribute once they’ve leveled up and are ready for varsity playing time.

Another Moss sister, Caylee, will play for her older sister and alongside Ryana and Cerise.

“One of the best compliments I’ve heard about her was that she plays like my dad [former Neah Bay standout Rob Moss]. “If you remember him from back in the day, he played a real smooth, fluid game.”

Danica Halttunen also will see the floor.

“Danica kind of reminds me of Jaden Halttunen, who just graduated,” Moss said. “A quick and athletic player.”

Neah Bay’s offense gets going when the Red Devils are playing fierce defense. With Allie Greene gone, Moss said the approach is to get to the rim.

“Everyone’s first look is trying to go inside, it’s been nice to see,” Moss said. “We talk a lot about shot selection and what are good, smart shots. We will talk about it in practice or in games, girls will come up and ask about a shot they took, so they are coachable. With some of the younger players, they are still trying to figure out what the best shot is for them, while girls like Ryana and Amber will play their games, they know what shots to take.”

Rebounding will again be a team-wide focus.

“We rebound and box out as a team and take pride in that,” Moss said.

There’s one thing Moss has discovered through the early stages of the season.

“Some of the bigger schools we have been playing, the girls are coming off of soccer season and our girls were playing volleyball this fall,” Moss said. “I feel like we will be at our best shape toward the end of the season when we have run for a few months.”

Neah Bay Red Devils

• Head coach: Cherish Moss.

• Last season: 23-1, won Class 1B girls basketball championship for first time in school history.

• Returners: Ryana Moss (sr., G); Ezrah Ray (sr., P); Amber Swan (sr., G); Q. Greene (so., G); Angel Halttunen (so., F); Wiinuk Martin (so., P); Cerise Moss (so., F); Briana McGimpsey (fr., G).

Newcomers: Danica Halttunen (8th, G); Caylee Moss (8th, G).

Outlook: Experience matters and the Red Devils have a ton of it with two straight trips to the 1B state championship game, plus all the tri-district contests and regular season matchups against larger schools.

With another tough slate of opponents, including Sequim and Port Angeles, the Red Devils will be tested and ready for another postseason run.

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Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at mcarman@peninsuladailynews.com.

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