FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The 2019-20 basketball season tips-off December 20, with a pair of intriguing matchups in the Interior, including the Class 3A Monroe Catholic Rams visiting the 4A West Valley Wolfpack. Here is a look at the Monroe programs as they prepare for the new season.
The Monroe boy's squad has reached the Alaska State Tournament nine years running, picking up three championships along the way (2012, 2013, 2014). Last season, the Rams received an at-large bid to the state tourney, ultimately placing fourth. Monroe graduated all-state honorees Isaac Garcia and Izak Lohrke, but are returning Tommy Bast and 2019 state all-tournament member Quinn McHenry.
"I'm excited, this year we got a lot of good players on the team," McHenry said at practice Tuesday. "We got a lot of work to do as usual, but it seems like everyone is working together well. I'm just excited to see what the season holds for us."
The Rams will also be mixing in several newcomers to its roster, as they eye a 10th straight state tournament appearance.
"I think this the first time in a long time that we've had from [players] six through 12 with a little bit more skill, a little bit more talented basketball players," Head Coach Frank Ostanik said. "There's the potential for a lot of growth in this group and in the new faces."
One of those new faces that will be playing a large role this season is junior Jase McCullough, younger brother of former 3-time state champion with Monroe and current UAF Nanook guard, Jalon McCullough. He played his first two years in Arizona and decided to finish out his high school career at Monroe.
"I've heard that Coach O [Ostanik] is a very good coach that's a big reason why [I came to Monroe]. I just want to be a part of a family again, just like how everyone is together throughout the journey to win the state championship." Jase McCullough said at his first week of practice with the Rams.
Monroe has also added former Nanook standout and professional basketball player Brad Olsen to it's bench as an assistant coach.
The boys will tip-off against the Wolfpack at 6 p.m. at West Valley.
The Monroe girls are looking for their first state appearance since 2011, just missing out on the tourney last year. In the past, there would some be concern of the amount of girls trying out to fill out the roster. According to Head Coach Bob Burcell, that is not a worry this year.
"Our numbers are up, we have some really good players returning, but our program has suffered the last few years only having seven, eight, nine girls," Burcell said at practice Tuesday. "This year we have 15 girls out for basketball and that's good for the development of our younger players. It's good in general for the program, so I am excited about that."
Another plus for the Rams, they are returning their leading scorers Katie Bast and Grace Hodges, both all-conference players last season. Burcell highlighted what Hodges, the glue of the team, brings to the court.
"Boy or girl, I have never had a player that plays harder than Grace Hodges does. She plays very, very hard and that comes through to the rest of the team," Burcell said. "She is the type of player that coaches love, but I have got some other good players too and if we mature, we should be very good."
Hodges is returning for her senior year, and will be looking to anchor the offense once again, as she has throughout her high school career.
"I just want to be a great leader," Hodges said. "We're family and I just love this team this year. I always loved the previous years but I feel like we're super close this year."
The girls' season begins December 20, when they face West Valley.