Johnson, Stockton lead young Bulldogs
By ERIC PLUMMER
SANDPOINT — It was a tough season last year for the Bulldog boys, who played the final handful of games with only eight players suited up in a tough 3-17 campaign that ended with a pair of tough losses to rival Lakeland.
Sandpoint head coach Kent Leiss is hoping a pair of returning all-league players and an influx of new varsity players can turn things around and help the Bulldogs make a run at earning a state tournament berth.
Leading the way will be senior 6-3 power forward Robbie Johnson, who torched the nets with 19, 22, 16 and 20 points in the last four games of the season. He plays bigger than his size, and does most of his damage on the blocks.
Johnson averaged 11 points and eight rebounds last season, and along with 6-3, 230 pound junior post Alex Stockton, forms a physical front court duo. Stockton averaged eight points and seven boards to join Johnson on the all-league team, and Leiss will lean on the three-sport pair again this season.
“Robbie really came on at the end. Since this team is so young, him and Alex will have to produce well,” claims Leiss. “Alex had some big games and was coming on. He’s got size and strength, plays hard and can rebound.”
Starting the season with injuries are senior 6-6 post T.J. Davis and 6-2 sophomore wing Ryan Roos. When the two return this season, the Bulldogs will have some length and athleticism on the front court, and Leiss hopes to employ some zone defense and a 1-3-1 half court trap to utilize the strengths.
The starting back court of junior point guard Bruin Jones and senior Damian Dalthorp will get tested right out of the gate by St. Maries, a team that loves to press. Leiss believes the two are much improved, with Jones running the offense and Dalthorp providing a long range threat.
“They’re getting better, they just need playing time,” says Leiss of his starting guards. “They’re better on defense, and their shots are getting better.”
Leiss is encouraged that his players practice hard, and are excited to play. He’s still deciding who will see varsity minutes among a group including sophomore Christian Niemela, sophomore Cade Vernon (6-3), junior Declan Plummer, sophomore Brandon Casey (6-4), sophomore Will Treadaway (6-5), sophomore Wilson VanDenBerg (6-4) and sophomore Jaxon Pettit.
“They all have to get better. Be good defensively and rebound, and we’ll have a chance,” describes Leiss. “Play hard with a lot of enthusiasm. I’d like to get up and down the floor.”
This year the schedule is front loaded with 10 opponents from smaller classifications, which should help the Bulldogs gain some confidence before closing with a tough stretch of nine games including four league games and five 5A opponents.
Lakeland has three quality returning guards, and Moscow, which claimed the 4A North berth to state last year, is also improved, so getting to state will take some yeoman work.
“We all need to be healthy and want to get to state,” says Davis of the key to the season. “I’ve heard how good Lakeland and Moscow are, but we’re so much better this year. As a senior, I don’t want to lose to Lakeland and Moscow.”
Leiss admits it will take some live action, including three home games this week, to find out who will emerge to claim varsity minutes on a young team full of varsity newcomers.
Johnson has liked what he’s seen so far from the team, and is hoping to end his high school career on a high note.
“There’s been a lot more commitment from underclassmen. We’re physically strong and our big dudes are athletic,” claims Johnson. “This team is a lot more hungry than last year. I’m excited to see what happens.”
The Bulldogs tip off the season tonight against 3A St. Maries at 7 p.m. at Les Rogers Courts.