Curtis Crosby lives and breathes basketball.
The Washougal High School senior has been playing the game since he was in kindergarten.
“You tie up your shoes, step on the court and it just feels right,” Crosby said. “You pick up the ball and say ‘hey, this is going through the hoop.’ That’s what makes this my favorite sport, because I know I can always push myself to get better.”
Washougal finished tied for second place in league last season. After starting off on a seven-game winning streak, the Panthers stumbled down the stretch and lost their final three games. This included three-point defeats to Black Hills and Aberdeen in the district tournament.
“We got off to a great start last year, but we didn’t finish well,” said senior guard Dan Davis. “This year, I want to finish strong and make it to districts. Once we get there, anything can happen.”
Davis, Crosby, Josh Bischoff, Brody Oberg and Matt Rotundo give Washougal five seniors on the floor. Junior Collin Prangley hopes to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Noah, who provided several productive seasons for the Panthers before graduating in 2015.
“We’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Prangley said. “I hope I can go out there and fill in for my brother. He says I’m better than him. I want to prove him right.”
Head coach Malcolm Estes said the Panthers will have to contend with Mark Morris, Hockinson, R.A. Long, Ridgefield, and Woodland for one of the league’s five playoff spots.
“You can’t pick against Mark Morris until somebody knocks them off,” he said. “It will be a battle all year long. We’re going to have to scratch, claw and play together every single night. If we do that, we’ll be right in the hunt for it.”
But first, the Panthers must define their roles on the floor.
“Somebody has to step up and say, ‘this is my team. I’m going to take the lead,'” Estes said. “I hoping it will be [Davis], [Prangley] or [Crosby], or maybe a combination of the three.”
Davis said the Panthers are putting in the extra conditioning now for the long season ahead. It starts with the first tip-off Wednesday, at Mountain View High School.
Washougal also hosts White Salmon Friday and Heritage Monday.
“Every practice I’m looking to improve on something in my game, whether that’s ball handling, shooting or defense,” Davis said. “Working on something every single day is just going to make us stronger in the long run.”
Then comes the sprints and hand touches after two hours of practice.
“The one thing that pushes us the most is each other, the guy right next to you,” Crosby said. “The more running we do, the longer we can last and the faster we can get down the court.
“This is our last year. We’re going to leave it all on the floor and try as hard as we can every day to get that win,” he added. “When we show up for practice, it’s time. I’m going to push you and you’re going to push me. When we walk off the court, we’re friends. But right now, it’s going to get feisty.”