The boys opened with a 74-70 defeat against St. Bernard’s on Tuesday night, with missed free throws proving costly.
But for a first game back in almost 16 months there were plenty of bright spots and reason for optimism moving forward.
“We had problems with our free throws and you could tell it was our first time out there again, but there were more positives than negatives,” head coach Sonny Tripp said. “We lost and I hate losing, but it was fun. It was exciting to be out there, and an honor for me to coach and be a part of it.”
The McKinleyville girls, meanwhile, are now 1-1 after opening with a hard-fought 45-43 win over Ferndale on Wednesday night, before falling 47-39 to St. Bernard’s a night later.
A tough opening week was made even tougher for the Panthers with COVID protocols leading to the cancelation of varsity and JV games on Monday.
On Wednesday, however, they were cleared to play.
“We had two instances where we’ve had to deal with COVID situations,” Cheek said. “Considering the circumstances and barriers, we’ve definitely come out good.”
The Panthers will rely heavily this season on a core group of seniors, including Kylee Townsend, Cameron Heenan and Kayley Armstrong, each of whom has played a key role in the opening two games.
A fourth senior, Ashley Alves, will also start this year, along with junior Kathryn Tinney, each of whom also is expected to have a big impact.
The boys team has just one experienced senior, T-Ryan Stumpf, on a young roster.
Stumpf will play a key role in the starting lineup, alongside Charlie Campbell, Owen Hamm, Jack Clancy and Connor Alto, the latter of whom has been particularly impressive defensively in the early going.
Big things are also expected out of freshman Jordan Brown, one of Tripp’s first options off the bench.
“I feel that we’re deep this year,” the coach said. “And for us, a lot of it is about preparing for next year.”
Despite losing on Tuesday, Tripp was pleased with his team’s drive.
“I like their intensity,” the head coach said. “I like the fact they didn’t give up.”
Despite being in foul trouble early in the game, Stumpf still finished with a team-high 23 points, while Clancy and Campbell each had 14 and Hamm chipped in 10.
For the girls, Heenan and Tinney each scored 11 points in Thursday’s loss, with Armstrong adding six points.
And the improvement throughout the squad from one night to the next was obvious despite the loss.
“You know, we’re playing pretty good,” Cheek said. “Going from one night to the next, and considering everything that’s going on, we improved after one night. And everyone got better, and that’s the big thing.”
Allie Egbert led the way in Wednesday’s win, as the Panthers had to hold off the Cats late for the two-point win.
Heenan added 12 points, with Armstrong and Townsend each scoring seven.
For Cheek, who has coached at the middle school level in the area for several years, the opportunity to take over the high school program this year was one he could not pass up.
“There are so many good girls in the program,” he said. “I was excited when the opportunity opened up.”
Both Mack teams will play at Hoopa on Friday night, and Tripp feels it will be a good test for his team and that it should be an exciting showdown.
“They’re always fun to play,” he said of the Warriors. “They’re kind of similar to us. They play hard and they play fast.”