The Woodburn boys basketball finds itself firmly in the drivers seat after starting the league campaign 9-0. The Bulldogs find themselves three games ahead of the next closest teams Central, Crescent Valley and West Albany.
It’s the best start to a boys basketball season over the last 10 years, resembling the 22-6 run of the 2018-19 season with Raul Veliz at the helm of the team for the first time. That year Woodburn was competing in the 4A Oregon West Conference and went 10-2 in league.
“I think we were very similar in terms of wins and losses, we were pretty similar,” Veliz said. “But having gone through the whole league undefeated, that's something I haven't experienced. I think that year we lost one game in the first half of league and then another game in the second half of league, but this hasn't happened. But you know, it's one of those things where the players have really bought into a lot of what we're talking about and that definitely helps, that really, really helps as a coach.”
Woodburn’s 9-0 start to this season’s league play began with a 53-34 road win over Silverton on Dec. 13 and snowballed from there. The Bulldogs won eight more league games, including seven straight on the road from Jan. 5 to Jan. 26. The road dogs made winning a habit, earning blowout victories and stealing away close ones.
With a home-heavy schedule coming up to close out the season, Veliz wants his team to safeguard against complacency in the familiar confines of Woodburn High School, but is also excited to play in front of his home crowd again.
“Definitely a weird schedule, having to have eight out of nine games, eight in a row, away and then having all these games at home,” Veliz said. “I think there'll be some advantages, definitely some where we will hopefully feel our crowd a little bit more. We've been away so long that it feels like we're always going against the other team's crowd as well, but we'll have, hopefully, our crowd there.”
As the second half of league starts up, the first game in the series of rematches coming against Silverton (7-9, 5-4 in league) on Jan. 31, Veliz knows that there are adjustments and improvements to make to ensure the streak continues.
The closest contests of the league calendar came against Crescent Valley, McKay, Central and West Albany and the Bulldogs head coach knows they’ll offer a similar challenge in the rematches.
“I think those games definitely are ones that we have to play a little better and we got to, hopefully, make some adjustments to what they did to make those games as competitive as they were, and so that's going to take us to kind of make those adjustments,” Veliz said. “But those are definitely some competitive games that we got to mark on the calendar and really get prepared for.”
Obviously a team is only as good as its players and the sum of its parts, and Veliz is pleased with the output of his squad. The play making of sophomore guard Cruz Veliz; the shooting of senior wing Spencer Karsseboom, junior forward Liam Slattum and sophomore wing Dylon Renteria; the hustle and energy of seniors Kaleb Robles, Eric Torralba and Rowen Blem; the defense of the brothers Carrasquillo, Slattum and junior Brody Hawley.
The team is firing on all cylinders thus far, and it’s gotten them top three ranking.
Woodburn sits just behind Summit (11-4) and Wilsonville (14-3) and just ahead of Churchill (15-3) in the 5A state rankings. The Bulldogs are the only Mid-Willamette Conference team ranked in the top 10; Central (9-6) sits just outside at No. 11.
Veliz and his squad have been following the state picture closely and believe that, despite being ranked so highly, anybody can get caught.
“Anybody can really beat somebody on any given night if you a team maybe that's supposed to be a little higher ranked doesn't play as well,” Veliz said. “Hey, there's a team maybe right below them or somebody thought, ‘Hey, they're way down on the rankings,’ well, they can beat you. And I think that's just a testament to how competitive the 5A level is right now. Anybody can beat anybody, and you really got to be on top of your game each time you have an opponent out in front of you.
“It's going to be fun to see just how it goes down the rest of the way,” Veliz continued. “But I think Wilsonville and Summit and all those schools, they are definitely some tough teams. We got to keep competing as best we can and we try to just focus on, ‘Hey, we got to play our best and whoever's in front of us, that's who we're playing that day.’ So hopefully that competitiveness will stick with us the rest of the way.”