The Toledo High School boys basketball team entered the new season in unfamiliar territory.
The Indians have been the rulers of the 2B Central League the past two seasons, winning back-to-back titles. Last year, behind a large and gifted senior class, Toledo found itself atop the 2B rankings for much of the season before claiming the fourth-place trophy at the state tournament.
It marked the program’s best finish since the Indians claimed the 1A state championship in 2013.
Gone from last year’s 24-win team is 11 seniors, including the league’s most valuable player Fano Arceo-Hansen and all-league players Andreas Malunant and Westin Wallace.
“No one is going to feel sorry for us because we lost 11 players,” said head coach Grady Fallon, who was last year’s 2B Central Coach of the Year. “We talked about that as a team coming into this year. We know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot based on what we’ve done in the last two years. We’re young, but the expectations are still very high with this program.”
Top on that list is securing a third consecutive league championship.
The Indians will begin defense of their league crown on January 3 when they travel to Rainier.
Just two players, seniors Miguel Soto and Duke Schaplow return from last year’s varsity squad. Both saw limited time as reserves during the 2018-2019 season. Much more will be asked out of them during their final year.
“We don’t have a lot of (varsity) experience,” said Fallon, whose roster features three freshmen. “So, it’s very important to have that senior leadership. We’re asking a lot out of Miguel and Duke.”
Schaplow, who was a first-team all-league linebacker and played quarterback for the Indians football team and Soto are both 6-foot forwards who will do a lot of the heavy lifting for the team in the paint. They are joined by fellow senior Walker Sorensen, a 6-foot-3 center who made his return to the team this year after sitting out his junior season.
Toledo will also rely heavily on junior guards Carlo Arceo-Hansen and Ryan Bloomstrom, especially on the offensive end of the court.
“Carlo is a different style of player than his brother,” said Fallon when asked to compare the 5’11” Carlo to his 6’3” older brother, Fano, who now plays at Centralia College after being an all-state guard last year, “but he’s starting to figure things out.”
This was more than evident during Toledo’s holiday games at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
Trailing by 16 to 2A Forks in the fourth quarter, Toledo rallied behind an offensive outburst by Acreo-Hansen as the junior drained a trio of 3-pointers late in the contest to put the Indians back within striking distance.
An offensive putback by Soto with 20 seconds remaining closed the deficit to 60-58, but Toledo was unable to find the equalizer.
It wasn’t the outcome the team is used to over the last few seasons, but it certainly was the fight Fallon wanted to see out of his young players, providing an optimistic outlook for future games this year.
“It’s what you want to see out of your team,” Fallon said about the rally. “This is still new to a lot of them. The speed of the game is very different (in varsity games) from what they are used to.”
Forks is one of several larger school classifications the Indians faced this season. They also played 2A Hoquiam at the holiday tournament in addition to 1A programs Castle Rock and Vashon Island.
“We’ve played some very good teams,” Fallon said. “Hopefully playing a tough non-league schedule pays off once the league starts up. That was the goal when we schedule them.”
Rounding out the list of juniors is 5’10” Freddy Fernandez, 6’2” Thomas Glass and 5’8” Jacob Marley.
Fallon is also very high on his three freshman – 5’4” point guard Jake Cournyer, 6’5” center Jaxon Cook and 5’10” forward Carson Gould.
Cournyer is the team’s primary ball-handler and already started several games for the Indians.
“Jake scored 15 points in the first varsity quarter he ever played in and finished with 22 points,” Fallon said. “Our freshmen live in the gym. It’s a group that just loves playing basketball.”
Toledo will play its home opener against Concrete on Saturday, January 5 at George Murdock Gymnasium. The Indians will have their league home opener on January 8 against Wahkiakum.
“It’s going to take time,” Fallon said. “I do think we have a lot of good tools to work with.”