What a difference a year makes.
At this time last year members of the Auburn Adventist boys basketball team were cleaning out their lockers and looking toward a long break after losing 76-58 to the Onalaska Loggers in a winner-to-state, loser-out 2B regional game.
This year it’s a different story for the Falcon (22-2) boys, who shot their way to a 54-46 win over the Loggers (11-16) this past Saturday in the regional 2B tournament at Puyallup High School.
The win earned the Falcons a first-ever berth in the state 2B Hardwood Classic, which begins Thursday in Spokane. Auburn Adventist opens against Northwest Christian (Colbert) at 9 a.m.
“It was great to redeem ourselves,” senior Gabe Chaikin said. “It was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, to come out and make it to state. I’m real proud of everybody.”
According to second-year head coach Jeremy Vandenboer, last season’s squad took its exit, one game shy of state, hard. Determined to play together as long as possible this season, the team played together for a solid six weeks in summer leagues putting 30 games and a handful of tourney appearances under its belt.
“They all also took a hard commitment to weightlifting in the off-season ” Vandenboer said. “They did a lot of extra shooting on their own to get there. They just worked so hard.”
“We really wanted to get into the gym, get our practices and get our shots up,” Chaikin said. “We didn’t want to go out like we did last year.”
This season, with a roster full of seniors, including Chaikin, the team’s 5-foot-10 point guard, and Charlie Fletcher, a 6-1 forward, the pressure was on Auburn Adventist to capitalize on the moment.
“We knew that once it’s over, it’s off to college and no more basketball for us, at least organized,” Fletcher said. “And that makes you much more nervous. There are a lot more butterflies knowing it’s your last opportunity.”
The Falcons responded, led by Chaikin’s 23.3 points per game average and Fletcher’s 11.6 ppg, reeling off victories in the first nine games before falling to 1A Seattle Christian on Jan. 17.
The team’s only other loss this season came Jan. 24 against California’s San Gabriel Academy.
Auburn Adventist has proven itself not shy about taking shots this year, with the team averaging more than 68 points per game. Defensively, the Falcons have stood stalwart holding opponents to just 45.5 points per game.
“Relentless has been the word of the year for us,” Vandenboer said. “We have to be relentless. We’re not very tall, as you can see (the tallest starter is 6-1, and the tallest player on the roster is just 6-4). But we are scrappy and fight and never quit.”
Against Onalaska on Saturday, Auburn Adventist proved its pluck with a gutsy performance, chucking up 27 3-pointers, nine of them finding the bottom of the net.
Chaikin led the way in the contest with 28 points, including four 3-pointers. He also added six rebounds and six assists.
Fletcher added 17 points and was 5-of-9 from behind the 3-point arc.
Also contributing was junior center Ely Previer, who had four points, and Isaac Jensen and Matt Kelley, who added two points apiece.
The real key to the win over the Loggers and the team’s lights-out season has been the team chemistry, however.
“[It’s] really good, we’re bonding well,” Chaikin said. “We’re shooting well and everybody is contributing.
“We share the ball well,” Vandenboer added. “Obviously our point guard, Gabe Chaikin, is very talented and does a lot for us. But everybody else contributes and believes in each other.”