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With nine seniors on a roster of 13 and seven players returning overall, leadership will likely be what makes or breaks the Yelm boys basketball team as they go into a four-game spree of nonleague matchups this weekend before commencing play in the South Sound Conference. 

There have been notable improvements under the surface of the Yelm boys basketball team over the last two years, and that’s in major part due to second-year coach Sterling Carter bringing a new mindset to the program. 

Since taking over as head coach, Carter has helped his team develop communication skills and court knowledge that they believe should lead them to prosperity. 

But it hasn’t been seamless. 

His first season with Yelm, Carter’s team went 0-14 in the league and 1-19 overall. That result was at least better than the winless season the boys endured the season before that. 

The problem wasn’t really with scoring, but rather finishing strong. Game after game, the Tornados would came out strong in the first half, only to falter in the fourth quarter. On average, Yelm lost by an average of 16.5 points over 19 games. 

But that could change. 

“I think we’re one of the best teams this school has had in a long time. Skill, leadership, passion for the game, toughness. We have some of the toughest guys,” Carter said. 

Notable returners include senior point guard Austin Schaler, sophomore shooting guard Tristan Pyette, junior small forward Terelle Dunn, senior small forward James Wildish and senior center Bradley McGannon. 

Newcomer senior Jacob Barnert is also expected to contribute, and senior Ben Hoffmann has returned to the program as a small forward. 

Carter said he’s confident this team could catch fire and bring some much-needed momentum to the boys program, especially with a chip on many of the returners’ shoulders. 

“The guys that played a lot of minutes last year weren’t happy with last year. They understand that I don’t like losing,” Carter said. “These guys are hungry. They don’t want to lose. They don’t want to go out on their senior year winning two games, one game, zero games, the year before last. It’s just motivation to them.” 

Carter said he’s received offers to leave Yelm for a more robust program but wants to coach in Yelm.

“Coaching skill is harder than coaching guys who want to learn,” Carter said. “Being here at Yelm, you might not have the most skillful team in the world, but you’ll have the kids with the greatest attitude, you’ll have kids that work hard and will run through a brick wall for you … I couldn’t leave a program where it’s set up like this.”

But the skill is still there. 

Last year, Schaler was a leading point guard who was a consistent hand on the court. Wildish consistently caught fire from behind the three-point line and was a heavy contributor to his team, and is looking at the school’s record. 

“We have a lot of returners from last year, so we’re more of a family. We grew together last year through the ups and downs, those close losses, fighting back in the game. I feel like this year, we just have that year under our belt, so we’ll be more in it together,” Schaler said. 

Dunn agreed with Schaler and said the team is more focused this year on what they need to get done. 

“Especially after this summer, I think we’re better now than we were in the summer. Especially with all the great assets we’ve brought to the team now,” Wildish said. 

Dunn, Schaler and Wildish agreed that it’s been nice to not start from square one this year. 

“The expectations are definitely high. Last year, it was kind of new for all of us, so he had his own goals but now we’re on the same page and we know exactly what the goals are for this year. It’s definitely win more games and hopefully see the postseason,” Schaler said. 

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