The Sultan boys basketball team huddles before the start of the game against King’s on Jan. 23 in Shoreline. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Sultan boys basketball team huddles before the start of the game against King’s on Jan. 23 in Shoreline. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sultan boys overcome hurdles to break 15-year state drought

A flooded gym and rotating lineup haven’t stopped the Turks from reaching their goal.

SULTAN — The Sultan High School boys basketball team experienced many bumps in the road over the course of the season, but none of them impeded the Turks from meeting their ultimate end goal — an elusive state tournament berth.

When 13th-seeded Sultan (15-6) takes the court for a Class 1A state regional game against No. 12 Montesano (19-6) on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Tumwater High School, it will mark the Turks’ third trip to state in program history and their first in 15 years.

“I didn’t want to put ‘state-or-bust’ on this,” senior guard Eli Trichler said, “but that’s really how I would’ve felt this season. If we didn’t get to state, I probably wouldn’t have felt as accomplished.”

Eli, along with his twin brother, senior Toby Trichler, have helped buoy Sultan back into contention over the past several seasons.

Since joining the varsity unit as freshman during the 2020-21 season, the Turks have compiled a 56-23 overall record over four seasons, and the first-team all-league backcourt tandem has been at the forefront of Sultan’s quest back to state.

Eli and Toby, along with breakout sophomore forward Dom Castillo and junior Tristan Lopez, have all been consistent cogs in the Turks’ rotation this winter.

Toby Trichler is averaging team highs of 18.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, adding 3.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks. Eli Trichler sits at 17.8 points, 5.7 boards, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals per outing.

Castillo, who’s added a much-needed third scoring option this season, averages 12.1 points and 6.1 rebounds a night. Lopez has been a go-to utility option for the group.

Before they put it all together, the Turks came up one win shy of clinching a state berth in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 campaigns, dropping loser-out games to eventual 1A state champions Lynden Christian in back-to-back District 1/2 crossover matchups.

Sultan finally kicked down the door this year, taking a 66-48 victory over Bear Creek in the third-place game at the 1A Emerald Sound Conference Tournament to cement a spot at regionals.

“It’s pretty surreal being here,” Toby Trichler said. “Since my freshman year this has been the end goal, to make it to state. And now that our season’s not over and we’re here … it’s awesome. And I wouldn’t rather do this with another group of kids.”

Although the end goal was met, the Turks have experienced some unprecedented hardships along the way. Their biggest setback? A flooded home gym.

After Sultan High School had pipes burst above the school’s gymnasium, it left the floor unusable. The Turks haven’t played a home game since Jan. 12. In the team’s final three district games, the Turks, who came into the tournament as a No. 3 seed, played each contest at a neutral site. All would have been home games if not for the flooding. The group has also been forced to practice at Sultan Middle School.

“It’s been a crazy ride for us,” 24th-year head coach Nate Trichler said. “These kids really haven’t let it bother them at all. … The way that they’ve persevered and not let the outside stuff bother them, when they get into game-mode it’s just been: ‘Let’s go find a way to win.’”

Nate Trichler talks to his team during a timeout on Jan. 23 in Shoreline. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Nate Trichler talks to his team during a timeout on Jan. 23 in Shoreline. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Turks held a makeshift senior night during a 51-48 win at Overlake on Jan. 30, and it wasn’t exactly the feeling the Sultan seniors had pictured for one of their last high school games.

“I think we tried to almost ignore that it was senior night,” Eli Trichler said. “It was probably easier for our juniors and sophomores to not really worry about it. … Me and my brother looked at it like we could be sad and bummed out, or we could look at like just a part of the road.”

In addition to the issues of not having a homecourt at their disposal, Sultan dealt with inconsistent lineup availability as well. Since the beginning of the season, Nate Trichler said he’s used 11 different players in his starting lineup.

“Every game has looked different,” Nate Trichler said. “Different leading scorer every night, different gameplans every night. The fact that they’ve been able to handle all the chaos … it’s been a lot of fun to coach.”

Nate Trichler, who was the head coach during Sultan’s last state run in 2009, said that he’s handled his preparation differently this time around.

“Back in 2009 … I made a mistake,” he said. “We celebrated going to state to the point where we weren’t ready for state. That was my fault. So, after we won our game on Saturday, I told them I wasn’t going to let that happen this time, that I was going to push them and we’re gonna grind and really get something done this week.”

Should the Turks pull out a win over Montesano this weekend, it would record Sultan’s first state tournament victory since 1961.

“It’s a game we’re not used to,” Lopez said, “but we’re excited to play our butts off and we’re gonna give it everything we have.”

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