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WHS boys basketball making early statement

Panthers tall, athletic, already making noise in 2A league

A.J. LaBree (center) enters his third season as the Washouga High School boys basketball team's head coach. LaBree led Sehome High School to a fourth-place finish at the 2A Hardwood Classic in 2015.

Washougal High School senior Brevan Bea elevates on his way to a layup against Mountain View High School on Dec. 9. (Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

Washougal High School freshman Yanni Fassalis makes a move past a Mountain View High School defender at Washougal High School on Dec. 9 (Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

Washougal High School senior captain Jakob Davis yells out a play while making a long outlet pass against Mountain View High School on Dec. 9. (Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

Washougal High School senior Jakob Davis is leading the Panthers in scoring after missing his junior season because of a knee injury. "It's so good to be back on the court, " Davis said. (Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

With the return of senior Jakob Davis, healthy and strong after missing last season with a knee injury, and the addition of highly-skilled freshman Yanni Fassalis, the Washougal High School (WHS) boys basketball team jumped out to a hot start this season, winning five of its first eight games.

“It’s so good to be back out on the court,” Davis said after the Panthers beat visiting Mountain View High School 88-58 on Dec. 9.

Davis scored 25 points and Fassalis tossed in 18 for the Panthers.

“(Fassalis) is a heck of a player,” WHS head coach A.J. LaBree said.

The Panthers are well on their way to topping last season’s 8-12 record.

“We’ve got a great team, a great brotherhood,” said Fassalis, who has quickly become a fan favorite. “I love all the coaches, and we are going to make a run this year.”

The Panthers opened some eyes in their first game of the season with an 86-50 victory over Stevenson High School. WHS also posted impressive wins over Hudson’s Bay and Mark Morris high schools before losing close contests to Camas High School and traditional 2A powerhouse W.F. West High School.

The Panthers then surprised Sequim High School at the Cloud 9 Christmas Classic Tournament at Lynden High School on Dec. 27, making 10 3-pointers in the win. Davis had 17 points and Fassalis added 15. However, on the final day of the tournament, the Panthers were beaten by Ferndale High School 71-51.

Football leaders bring intensity to hardwood

The Panthers’ front line is a tall one, featuring the 6-foot-3 Davis, an all-2A Greater St. Helens League wide receiver; the 6-3 Fassalis; 6-5 junior Gabe Kent; and 6-3 senior forward Dalton Payne, who played quarterback on WHS’ first state tournament team in two decades.

Junior guard Aaron Ackman specializes in shooting the long ball, and all-league football player Brevan Bea uses his strength and athleticism to put defensive pressure on opponents, much like he did on the football field.

“We’ve got a good bunch of guys this year,” Bea said.

LaBree, who coached at Sehome High School for eight years before coming to Washougal, agreed with Bea.

“We are much bigger and we are faster (than last year) as well, so the more possessions we have in a game, the better it will be for us,” he said. “I like our opportunities to score with our bigs inside, and we shoot it well enough to cause some problems (for other teams).”

Much of the Panthers’ early success has been due to defensive pressure that created scoring opportunities. Last season WHS played much more of a half-court game, but this season the action has been fast and furious in the full court.

“We are looking to press more and get teams in uncomfortable positions,” said Davis, who is among the league’s top scorers early on, averaging nearly 19 points a game through the first four games of the season. “We want them to play our ball, which is getting up and down the court.”

All eyes on postseason

WHS is looking to make a name for itself by qualifying for postseason play. Proven senior leadership overseeing a rare freshman talent has Panthers players and fans excited about this season.

“Yanni has done an absolutely fabulous job for us so far, and a lot of the seniors are doing a really great job,” Davis said. “We are really big this year, so we are going to take advantage of that.”

Columbia River High School, which dominated the 2A GSHL last season, returns co-league most valuable player Nate Snook. Ridgefield High School returns three all-league players and has surprised some opponents early in the season. The Monarchs have been a perennial league powerhouse, but graduated nine players from last year’s team.

The Panthers begin league play at home against the Spudders on Monday, Jan. 6.