MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — These are special times for the Cedar Park Christian–Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team.
The Class 1B high school is perfect three-quarters of the way through its season. The Lions (15-0), whose roster is culled from a student body of about 135, are eyeing a trip to the state tournament for the first time since 2009, when the school was North Sound Christian.
“My mentality is think big, even though we’re small,” CPC Mountlake Terrace head coach Pat Russell said.
The Mountlake Terrace branch of the Cedar Park Christian school system is a private school that houses grades 7-12. Russell, who is also the principal of the school, says the average class size is about 25. The Terrace campus is one of five Cedar Park Christian schools in the area.
“This campus is more of a blue-collar (type),” Russell said. “It’s not your stereotypical private school feel. The campus has its own niche. It’s not this overblown fancy feel. It’s this neat little campus.”
And, its athletes can play ball.
The Lions are thriving thanks in large part to Russell and a new offensive style this season. Cedar Park Christian has switched to a fast-paced offense, replacing the slower, more deliberate set offense it used in years past.
In a spring game, the Lions tried out the new offense, and quickly — like the offense — learned that it could work.
“The first game we put in the new approach, we practiced for a week, then when we played, we were up 18-2 in the first few minutes,” Russell said. “That sealed for them that this could be a lot of fun.”
Even though he’s mixing up the offense, Russell has helped bring stability to a CPC team that had four coaches in four years. Russell is in his third year as the coach of the Lions — his first head coaching job — and decided this season to let his team shoot.
“I just give them the green light to shoot whenever they’ve got the ball,” Russell said.
Senior point guard Micah Patterson, who has been in charge of running the new fast-paced offense, enjoys the uptempo style of play.
“It’s been a lot better,” Patterson said. “This year we just like to push it. Keep the tempo moving. It helps us score a lot of points.”
Led by leading scorers Terry Eun (16.7 points per game) and Eric Matson (13 ppg), Cedar Park Christian-Mountlake Terrace is averaging about 67 points per game. There have been a couple close calls — a one-point win over Tulalip Heritage and a two-point win this week against Concrete — but the Lions remain focused on keeping their 15-game winning streak alive.
“The most important thing is that we don’t lose focus,” said Eun, a co-captain. “We’re 15-0 but we can’t get lazy and not go hard in practice.”
“We want to bring home the hardware,” Matson said as he pointed to a trophy case in the hallway outside the CPC gym. “Put some banners up on that wall. We want to see what we can accomplish.”
And the team wouldn’t mind preserving its undefeated record on the way to getting that banner.
“We won our first game, then our second game, and now we’re thinking, ‘let’s not let that zero (in the loss column) go away,’” senior co-captain Daniel Schettler said.
Schettler, Mattson, Eun and Patterson have played together since about seventh grade, which brings an added advantage to the small school format. The players grow up playing basketball together and that can pay dividends when high school comes around.
“We’ve been playing together for years,” Schettler said. “It’s nice having that continue to senior year. There’s already that (team) chemistry.”
Russell started a third, fourth and fifth grade league last year at the Cedar Park Christian early education schools. He’s hoping that will help develop another group of players who can take over once the Lions’ current underclassmen graduate.
“Usually we have a lot of students that have gone to school together and played together,” Russell said. “Another core group is coming. I’ve got some eighth, seventh and fourth graders that are going to be good. ? Hopefully they make a big impact as freshmen, when we lose some of our younger guys now.”
Those younger guys are getting valuable experience being on a team with the potential to go undefeated and do well at the state tournament.
The perfect record isn’t a complete surprise to Russell, who said the team figured out early on it might be able to pull the feat off. There was one unknown, the Bethel Christmas Tournament in Santa Ana, Calif., but the Lions went down there and took care of business.
“I’m not surprised by our record,” said Russell, who played basketball and baseball at Pacific Lutheran University and then Northwest University. “The California tournament, we weren’t sure what that would look like. But as we played in November and December, going undefeated was definitely a goal that I thought we were capable of.”
Cedar Park Christian is going to get another big test today, when it faces La Conner, the No. 4 team in the Associated Press poll for 2B. The Braves are 4-0 in the Northwest 1A/2B/1B conference, and 14-1 overall.
Russell said La Conner will be a good “litmus test” to see where the Lions stand.
“They’re big. They’re the perennial 2B powerhouse in our league,” Russell said. “They go to state almost every year. They place in the top six almost every year.”
The CPC coach hasn’t had a lot of success against La Conner during his career, losing 82-56 last year and 63-16 at La Conner the year before. The Braves also went 2-0 when playing at Cedar Park Christian during the past two seasons.
Even if the Lions lose to La Conner — or another team this season — Russell won’t get hung up on it. His team has a much bigger goal in mind as the regular season draws to an end.
“Although 15-0 is great. We want to go to state,” Russell said. “That’s really our goal. That’ll set us up for years to come.”
His team agrees.
“Ultimately the goal is to get as far as we can in state,” Schettler said. “But we’ve got to take it one game at a time. ? It’s not just about getting to state. It’s about competing at state.”
Said Patterson: “I think being undefeated is definitely important. But our ultimate goal is a state championship. If one loss comes our way, we’ll just need to come back from that and move on.”