When the Everett Community College men’s basketball team last reached the final four of the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament in 1997, Mike Trautman was a player for the Trojans.
Fast forward 26 years and Everett, which is now coached by Trautman, is back in the final four. And this time Trautman is hoping to guide the Trojans to their first ever NWAC championship.
Everett kicks off the final four when the Trojans take on Clackamas at 5 p.m. Saturday at Columbia Basin College in Pasco. And in an upset-filled bracket, the Trojans may just be the favorites to claim the school’s first men’s basketball championship since 1959.
“It’s great (reaching the final four),” said Everett coach Mike Trautman, who has turned the Trojans into an annual contender since taking over in 2016, but had yet to reach the final weekend. “Last weekend was super exciting because we played so well.”
Everett (24-7), the No. 2 seed from the North Region, ripped through its first two NWAC tournament opponents, thrashing East No. 3 Spokane 86-58 last Friday in the first round, then blowing past West No. 1 Lower Columbia 69-49 Saturday in the quarterfinals.
The Trojans’ impressive victories were grounded in defense. Everett held Spokane to 30.3% shooting from the floor and outrebounded the Sasquatch 49-29, then held Lower Columbia to 23.2% from the field while outrebounding the bigger Red Devils 61-38.
“It was just so cool to see the guys totally buy in to the game plan and be so tough on the ball defensively,” Trautman said. “Our motto is to challenge everything, and they really challenged everything last weekend. Both Spokane and Lower Columbia, if they had a shot it was heavily challenged, we scrapped for every loose ball and rebound, and that was the key to our success.”
Everett has now won six straight, and the late-season surge is largely attributable to finally reaching full strength. The Trojans were plagued by nagging injuries and illness during much of the regular season. However, they were 100% healthy for the start of the tournament, and that was evident in the number of different standouts they had in last weekend’s games. Against Spokane, it was Tucker Molina’s triple-double and Jadin Penigar’s 28 points that carried the mail. But against Lower Columbia it was 18 points apiece from Colton Spencer and Tyriq Luke that led the way.
“We forgot how to win there for a little bit, in part because it seemed like we were missing two starters a night,” Trautman said. “Now we’re back to being 100% healthy — knock on wood — and we’re back to our old selves. And I think the guys have really bonded, they’re a lot closer now than they had been all year long. Some teams naturally bond early, this group took a while. They’ve always liked each other, but in the last month it’s been a lot more fun, they joke around and want to play for each other.”
Now the Trojans are on the cusp of history. Everett has never won an NWAC title. The last time the Trojans claimed a league championship was when Everett won the Washington State Junior College Athletic Conference in 1959.
And the odds appear to be in Everett’s favor. Clackamas (23-8), the South No. 1, was the only top seed to advance to the final four — Bellevue’s shock upset of undefeated North Idaho in the first round was the biggest surprise. Therefore Everett, which was No. 5 in the final NWAC coaches poll, is the highest-remaining team in the tournament. Add in a 3-0 record against the other three semifinalists during the regular season, as well as the nature of the Trojans’ victories last weekend, and Everett is considered a favorite.
“It would be awesome (to win Everett’s first title), that’s why I do what I do, I want to win a title,” Trautman said. “The reason why we preach winning basketball is because it helps guys get recruited so much. A lot of guys got phone calls the last couple days from coaches they hadn’t heard from before, and that’s why we preach winning, it helps guys get to the next level.
“I’m from Everett, I played here, and when I was a player in the late 90s the program changed my life,” Trautman added. “I wasn’t a great student, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Central (Washington University) and become a teacher and a coach if it wasn’t for this program. It changes people’s lives, so winning a championship would be huge.”
If Everett gets past Clackamas, the Trojans face the winner between East No. 4 Columbia Basin (22-6) and North No. 4 Bellevue (21-9) in the championship game at 4:45 p.m. Sunday. All the games are being streamed on the NWAC website at a cost of $14 per game.
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