The Liberty Bell High School boys’ basketball team opened the season with a weekend split, Thursday night (Dec. 2) traveling to Omak and edging the Pioneers, then falling to the perennially tough Davenport Gorillas at home in the Lions’ Den on Friday night (Dec. 3).
• Liberty Bell 46, Omak 42: Junior forward Isaiah Stoothoff led the Mountain Lions with 19 points and 9 rebounds, and freshman Morgan Spellman added 10 points in the season opener for both teams.
Liberty Bell outscored the Pioneers 13-4 in the first quarter, then held off the home team for the final three quarters to win by four points.
Both teams struggled shooting the ball while playing tough on the defensive end. The Mountain Lions’ defensive speed and discipline drew a total of five offensive charging fouls against Omak, earning the accolades of first-year coach Nate Chrastina.
“I was real proud of the efforts to take charges,” said Chrastina. Quick-footed freshman Lucien Paz was on the receiving end of three of those charges.
• Davenport 70, Liberty Bell 46: Stoothoff once again led the Mountain Lion offensive effort with 12 points, and Kyler Mitchell tallied 9 points. Stoothoff, Mitchell and Brayden Schmekel each pulled down 5 rebounds and eighth-grader Remi Paz dealt out 5 assists.
The Mountain Lions stayed with Davenport in the first quarter, completing the period down only two points at 15-13. The Gorillas warmed up though, outscoring Liberty Bell 21-11 in the second quarter, adding another 10 points to the lead with an 18-8 third quarter. The Lions’ record dropped to 1-1 on the season.
The Mountain Lions are young, quick and enthusiastic. They have no seniors on a roster that includes two juniors, two sophomores, four freshmen and one eighth-grader. Besides the normal losses to graduation, several letter winners from the past two years have not returned to the team, and the family of incoming freshman Quincy Scott has moved away to the Tri-Cities area.
But this year’s group, while young, has an uncommon collective passion for the game, and several of them come from a successful youth program that knows how to win games and tournaments.
Look for sophomores Kyler Mitchell and Isaiah Stoothoff to anchor the post/forward positions at both ends of the court.
Junior Madison Strauss has added a couple of inches and could contribute off the bench inside. Incoming freshmen Lucien Paz, Morgan Spellman, Mac Surface and Bradyn Schmekel are all quick on the break and can shoot from the perimeter. Paz’ younger brother Remi has been called up to service and will get plenty of playing time this year as an eighth-grader. The elder Paz seems to be showing a tendency to run the offense from the point as a capable ball handler, shooter and floor leader.
The boys have a couple of early tests coming up when they face a tough, veteran and experienced team in the Brewster Bears this coming Friday (Dec. 10) in the Lions’ Den. Brewster comes in as the defending state champion, having won the 2B State Tournament in early March 2019 before COVID-19 shut down the competitive format in the 2020-21 season.
The rest of the North Central Washington 2B League continues to be one of the more competitive leagues in Washington as there are no “gimme” games on the Mountain Lion schedule. The Lions host Republic on Tuesday (Dec. 14), and then hit the road for a month before returning to the Den on Jan. 21 for a four-game home stand.
Head coach Nate Chrastina takes over the reins this year and is assisted by Ryan Surface. Chrastina comes from a self-made basketball background, playing at a now-extinct small private high school in Dallas, Texas. He played as a walk-on at Ouachita Baptist College and has a blend of coaching experience. If early-season practices are an indication, the boys are going to push the ball up the floor on offense and play a tough, hustle style of defense.
Surface is an alum of Liberty Bell and the Mountain Lion basketball program, serving as a junior high coach, assistant coach at the varsity level, and most recently as one of the coach-dads on the Methow Mustangs traveling AAU team that won several age-category state championships just a few years ago.
The Liberty Bell Girls jumped out to a 1-1 start on the 2021-22 season with a loss at Omak against the Pioneers and a win at home versus the Davenport Gorillas on Dec. 2-3. Both games were non-league contests, Omak from the 1A Caribou Trail League and Davenport in the 2B Bi-County League of northeastern Washington.
• Omak 53; Liberty Bell 42: The Omak Pioneers spoiled the season opener for the Mountain Lions, working their way out to a 25-21 halftime lead, then extending that lead through the second half to the final 11-point margin of victory. “We just had too many turnovers to get the win,” said head coach Stephanie Mitchell. “But it was the first game of the season and it was a great game to show us what we still need to work on.”
Senior Jadyn Mitchell secured her first double-double of the season, nabbing 14 rebounds and leading the Mountain Lions scoring 20 points. Classmate Caitlyn Cooley dropped in 11 points and grabbed 8 rebounds to compliment Mitchell’s effort. Joslyn Rispone (9 points) and Shae Taylor (2 points) were the only other Lions to find the bottom of the net. Taylor led the Lions in assists, doling out 6 passes.
• Liberty Bell 42, Davenport 27: Mitchell hit for 15 of her game-high 22 points in the first quarter as the Mountain Lions got out early and led wire-to-wire in defeating the Davenport Gorillas. She also corralled 14 rebounds to score her second double-double in as many nights.
“She came out on fire,” coach Mitchell said of her senior class daughter. “Caitlyn Cooley is playing great in the post and Sandra Hernandez came off the bench and played great defense.”
Cooley got to double figures in points with 10 for the second time this season and collected 8 rebounds. Hernandez hustled to grab 6 rebounds while contributing 2 points, and Shae Taylor added 3 assists. Junior guard Ruby McCarthy emerged from the concussion protocol to score 4 points. Rio Lott and Joslyn Rispone each added 2 points to complete the book for the Mountain Lions.
The coming season
The 2021-22 version of Mountain Lion girls’ basketball will look suspiciously like the COVID-19 version with lots of the same faces and only a few changes. Leading scorer and rebounder Jadyn Mitchell returns for her senior season, looking to lead the girls back to the district tournament, and maybe beyond. Liberty Bell was one win from qualifying for the state regional brackets in the last real season, 2019-20, and looks to try and better that experience by qualifying for the state tournament slated for late February in Spokane.
Caitlyn Cooley looks to anchor the post effort, and has the experience and toughness to be a force inside. She is capable of scoring and should be close to averaging in double figures this year, but her strength is on the boards, clearing the lane and rebounding. Shae Taylor is a gritty player who isn’t afraid to join in the rebounding fray, but can also dish the ball inside to both Cooley and Mitchell for opportunities to score close in.
Senior Joslyn Rispone can also scrap for the ball defensively and is a hustle player who can score when called upon. Junior Ruby McCarthy, a solid defender and all-around athlete, has been slowed so far this season, but has been going through light duty workouts and returned to the floor for the Davenport game.
The point guard position might be a fit for incoming freshman Rio Lott, who has Mountain Lion basketball genes as both parents are former skilled players at Liberty Bell. Eighth-graders Helaina Remsburg and Anah Klemmek have been called up from the junior high squad. Remsburg can handle and pass the ball. Klemmek showed some great speed and athletic ability on the soccer pitch this fall which should translate well to the indoor courts.
Mitchell is in her fifth year as head coach on the Mountain Lion program, serving previously as an assistant under former coach Ed Smith. She also played for Liberty Bell in the mid-1990s on teams that were repeat participants in the state 1A Tournament in Tacoma when the Mountain Lions were in the Caribou Trail League.
A small group of five will represent the Mountain Lions on the mats this winter, anchored by Senior Noah Holston. Holston qualified for state as a freshman in the 2018-19 season and wrestled at the Mat Classic that year. He fell short at the regional qualifier during his sophomore year and there was no tournament last year, so his ambitions are lofty.
Qualifying for state is only one step in Holston’s ambition to make the podium and, perhaps, win the individual title at the 195-pound level of the 1B/2B classification in February.
Noah is the third of three Holston wrestlers. Older brothers Milo (Liberty Bell 2014) and Finlay (class of 2018) both had success at the state level. Wrestling at the Omak Invitational this past Saturday, Noah swept through the tournament, winning all four of his matches, one by decision and three by fall, when he pinned his opponent.
“My last match was against a really good wrestler, Charlie Payne,” said Holston. “And he had me down two points late in the third round. I was able to get leverage, flip him over and pin him.”
New to the program, coming over from basketball, is senior Grey Patterson. First-year coach Joe Downing thinks Patterson will be fine as he learns his new sport. Patterson didn’t wrestle this past weekend, so it will have to wait until he gets a few matches in to see where he is against competition.
Another newcomer to the program, Brady White, has no wrestling experience, and so it is wait-and-see where he will be in his first match.
Damien Spears opened some eyes this past weekend, taking second place in the 170-pound division, winning to by a fall and a decision, and losing in the final match to Genaro Reyna of Cashmere.
Cassidy Mowen-Jones wrestled four matches not recorded on the tournament’s website. Downing reported that she won all of her matches, all via falls, and all in the first round.
Downing hails from the Arlington area, where he wrestled for Arlington High School and qualified and placed at state a couple of times in 2001 and 2003. He moved here full-time from the Snohomish area and is a diesel mechanic by trade. His coaching experience goes back to Arlington High School, where he coached alongside long past Mountain Lion Ben Mendro, a teacher and coach at Arlington.
With only five wrestlers, the Mountain Lions will not be in contention for team titles or trophies this year. Still, Downing is excited for the year. He looks forward to some solid performances from the Mountain Lions, and at least two or three that could make it to the Tacoma Dome in mid-February for the Mat Classic.
Mountain Lion alumni Liam Daily and Willy Duguay are teaming up to coach the junior high basketball boys this late fall. They played basketball together in the mid-2010s, and ran on several state-bound cross country teams … Other former Mountain Lions currently dabbling in coaching include Korrie Bourn (high school basketball assistant for girls) and Jonathan McMillan (wrestling) … Sam Naney takes over for Leslie Hall as coach for the youth Nordic skiing program … Mountain alum Tim Lewis (2013) was on the officiating crew as the back judge for the 2A Football Championship at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium this past Saturday. That is the fourth state title event in three sports he has worked since 2018.