SEQUIM — The Sequim boys basketball team has the rest of the Class 2A state tournament field right where it wants them: receiving all the attention.
This particular group of Wolves (10-14 overall) are no lead dogs.
No, they’d rather sneak up on their prey.
They will have a perfect chance to do that at this week at the Yakima Valley SunDome, beginning with tonight’s first-round game against District 7 champion Clarkston (15-9) at 7:30 p.m.
As the 2A tournament’s lone team with a losing record, they’re the prohibitive underdog. That suits Sequim’s second-year head coach Greg Glasser just fine.
“There’s no other position I’d want to be in,” Glasser said. “When we go over there we’re not going to be the ones that are stressing about the game.
“[Tournament favorites] Mark Morris, Squalicum [and] River Ridge, those are the teams that everybody is expecting.
“They are wondering where the heck Sequim is. So I love our position. I love people telling me that I can’t do something or that we can’t do something.”
The Wolves have heard plenty of that this year.
After the preseason departures of starting brothers Nic and Dalton Thacker, many thought the Wolves would come up lame this winter.
An Olympic League preseason coaches’ poll conducted by the Peninsula Daily News had Sequim pegged to finish one spot from the bottom in eighth. Only the Kingston Buccaneers, a winless program before January, were picked behind them.
Glasser made sure to present an enlarged copy of the poll to his players before their first game of the season.
“I gave that to the kids, and a lot of them remembered it,” Glasser said. “That’s their motivation is to prove people wrong, and to say ‘Yeah we do belong here.'”
It took some time for the Wolves to do that. After all, they did finish seventh in the Olympic League and third among the 2A schools in the regular season.
Yet when they got a second chance, they pounced.
Sequim spent almost its entire season trying to get healthy.
The starting lineup was intact for only a handful of games, with injuries varying from the standard (junior forward Clancy Catelli’s ankle) to the absurd (senior guard Ary Webb’s mononucleosis).
On rare occasions when the roster was together, the Wolves showed flashes of brilliance, like when they beat 3A arch rival Port Angeles 34-30 for the first time since 2003.
When it wasn’t together, things didn’t go quite as smoothly, like when they got thumped by Bremerton 70-46 weeks later.
Fortunately, by the time the postseason rolled around, Catelli’s ankle problems were done, a team-wide flu epidemic had come and gone, and Webb’s kissing disease was a distant memory.
Given a shot at the 2A Olympic League’s second district seed — which came with the added bonus of a first round home game — in a sub-district playoff with Klahowya, Sequim responded with one of its best efforts of the season for a 60-51 win in Silverdale.
“When Clancy came back everything kind of fell into place,” said Webb, who led the Wolves in scoring this season at 16.7 points per game. “The Klahowya game was a pivotal moment for us. We just started getting hot, and as we started playing really well together, I think we got more focussed at practice.”
Sequim won its first district game, a home tilt against Eatonville 51-50, then followed a loss to 2A Nisqually champion Fife with a 39-36 upset for Steilacoom (16-7) for the third and final 2A West Central District berth to state.
Three wins in four games, with a couple coming by three points or less, something last year’s team (0-8 in games decided by four or less) never was able to do.
An added emphasis on late game situations, drilled ad nauseam in practice, paid off.
The state-clinching win came with starting point guard Corbin Webb, Ary’s freshman brother, out for most of the game with an eye injury.
Sequim executed its defensive game plan, took care of the ball down the stretch and knocked down 8-of-9 free throws with an unconventional lineup that had center Taylor Thorson at point.
“I wouldn’t say [I’m] surprised,” Glasser said of the Wolves’ run to state. “This was the goal all year long. We came about it a little bit differently than I thought.
“What surprised me was how our kids overcame adversity. The fact that we had guys out, injured and sick, and then [there were] people just flat out not thinking we could be here. But our kids believed and that was what I was happily surprised with.”
Glasser said the difference down the stretch, other than a healthy roster that is, was the team’s willingness to buy into roles.
“Each kid is starting to discover and really embrace their role,” Glasser said. “I think that’s the key. That’s what we struggled with last year, and this year our kids are embracing it and realizing that this is what we need to do, that we play to our strengths and stay away from our weaknesses.”
For Ary Webb, that means taking all the big shots, while brother Corbin Webb (1.2 assists per game) distributes, junior forwards John Textor, Jeremie Oliver and Catelli fly around defensively. Seniors Taylor Thorson and Reed Omdal fill in the blanks.
Textor in particular has stepped up his game this season.
The long-armed leaper transformed into a deadly slasher (10.8 ppg) and ball hawker (3.3 steals and 4.7 rebounds per game) this season, giving Sequim a nice second option to Ary Webb.
And just like the rest of the Wolves, Textor plays best with a chip on his shoulder.
“We wanted to prove everyone wrong, and it seems like we kind of did,” the 6-foot-2 junior said. “When we play together, we play really well.”
The last group of Wolves to visit state in 2007, a team Ary Webb played on as a sophomore, were two losses and done. The goal this year is to better that by at least one.
Sequim certainly has nothing to lose, not to mention a decent draw devoid of daunting teams like top-ranked Squalicum and No. 2 Mark Morris.
Tonight’s opponent, Clarkston, won its district after claiming three straight, including a victory over No. 8 West Valley of Spokane last Friday. Yet as the second-place team out of the Great Northern League, the Bantams are by no means juggernauts.
“We’re going [to state] to get a win,” said Glasser, who led the girls team to state two years ago. “I think that our kids have a great shot.
“We’re the underdog. Not many people know a lot about us. Maybe they are not paying attention to us. That’s fine. Hopefully we can sneak up on somebody and surprise a few people.”