Swanson, entering his second season as an NIC assistant coach, is recovering from major injuries sustained when was struck head on by a car on the side of Interstate 90 westbound near the Cheney/Tyler exit on Sept. 22.
Swanson was traveling to Portland on a recruiting trip with NIC assistant coaches Chris Kemp and Ameer Shamsuddin, Symons and NIC play-by-play announcer Richard Haugen when their car struck a deer that totaled their car around 4:30 a.m. A tow truck was driving behind the group and stopped after witnessing the accident, offering assistance.
The group moved to the ditch to the side of the highway to discuss how to remove the car from the road. A driver in a Jeep Cherokee failed to see the tow truck in the right lane and swerved toward the ditch where the group was standing.
Swanson was struck head on, shattering his pelvis, as well as breaking his femur and forearm. Kemp also sustained major injuries, fracturing a vertebra in his spine, as well as his collarbone. Shamsuddin sprained his foot after the car ran him over. The car missed Symons and Haugen by about a foot.
The accident sent a shock wave through the program. Symons spent every night in the hospital supporting Swanson and Kemp in their recovery.
“To be 100 percent honest with you, we weren’t sure if he (Swanson) was going to make it,” Symons said. “With that going on, basketball was the last thing on my mind.”
Enter redshirt sophomores Sam Dowd and Zaequan “Ziggy” Satterthwaite.” With the entire NIC coaching staff dealing with the aftermath of the accident, Dowd and Satterwhite took on leadership roles and ran practice.
“At the beginning, as a captain for the team, it was hard because the other guys look at how you’re going to react,” said Dowd, a 2014 Gonzaga Prep graduate. “It was an emotional roller-coaster over those few weeks, but Coach was telling me I had to be calm and stay balanced. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low and pick the guys up.”
Since the accident, Swanson and Kemp are recovering but are far from 100 percent. Swanson is in a full-care rehabilitation facility and Kemp still needs surgery to repair torn ligaments in his knee.
Lately, Swanson has been allotted two hours to get out of his rehab facility, which he spends at NIC practice. It’s nice having Swanson, who the team calls “Coach G,” back in the gym for the players. Not only for his coaching acumen, but knowing he’s alive and well after the accident put his life in danger.
“At the time (of the accident), our chemistry as a team wasn’t there and I really think that brought us together,” Dowd said. “I think it’s just a miracle they’re here for us today.”
Chemistry was a major question mark this season for the Cardinals, who are coming off a historic 30-0 regular season in the Scenic West Athletic Conference and debut in the Northwest Athletic Conference this season. NIC lost five players to Division I schools this offseason, most notably guards Braian Angola-Rodas and Brayon Blake, who signed with Florida State and Idaho, respectively.
NIC also lost guards Lucas Antunez (Toledo) and Trey Burch-Manning (South Dakota), as well as forward Kyle Guice (University of Illinois-Chicago).
With that nucleus, which accounted for over 70 percent of their scoring last season, Dowd and Satterthwaite are expected to make larger contributions after being role players last year.
But Symons is tempering the expectations and letting this year’s team define itself.
“You can’t replace them, they’re not replaceable,” Symons said of his five D-1 players. “You just try and fill their spots with somebody else that can bring their own game to it.
“Those guys were unique … we just want to get new players in here and build on a new team.”
Symons also expects many of his redshirts from last season to make an impact, most notably guards Markus Golder from Clackamas, Oregon, and Adam Gotelli, a San Diego transfer.
Among the newcomers, Niko Bevans from Beaverton, Oregon, who Symons called “one of the best shooters around,” and 6-foot-6 wing Jalen Burkett from Phoenix.
The Cardinals are also tabbed the No. 18 junior college team in the nation in The Sporting News Top 20.
After the Cardinals’ trying offseason, being out on the court every day is a blessing for Symons and his players. It’s a time where they can unwind and absolve themselves of their problems for a two-to-three-hour period.
And for Symons and Swanson, the experience put things into perspective, far beyond the basketball court.
“In the coaching world, there are very few positions where you are content, you are always trying to chase that next job, get on with that bigger school, at every level,” Symons said. “With this accident, George and I sat down and went, ‘Man, this could be home for a long time.’
“The way the community has backed us and our families through this tragic event … it’s been pretty amazing to see how the community supported us and our program.”
Like the men’s program, head coach Chris Carlson has holes to fill.
The Cardinals, coming off a 21-9 season, lost eight key contributors from last year, including first-team all-league guard Maci Benedict and second-team all-league guard Monica Landdeck.
The team’s only returners are sophomore bigs Jocelyn Cook-Cox and Charity Marlatt. Add in Shayna Allert, a Walla Walla CC transfer from Post Falls, and the Cardinals only have three sophomores on their roster.
“I think we have everything that it will take to be competitive this season, we are just really, really young,” Carlson said.
Carlson said he expects Cook-Cox and Marlatt to be leaders on this year’s team. Among the newcomers, Cierra Dvoraka, a Lake City product, and Lana Berg from Rollins, Montana, are expected to play big minutes in the backcourt.
Head coach Jeremy Groth has a secret weapon in sophomore guard Levi Taylor.
Taylor, the NWAC tournament MVP and first-team all-league selection last season, has undeniable raw talent. And having graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 2011, Taylor is four-to-five years older than most of his competition. But it’s not his physical maturity that sets him apart. It’s his mental approach.
“Words don’t describe how vital Levi is to our team,” Groth said. “Levi doesn’t get rattled in pressure situations, he doesn’t get rattled.”
Taylor (18.6 points per game) is the Sasquatch’s key returner from last year’s team that beat Whatcom CC in the NWAC title game.
The Sasquatch will need Taylor’s maturity more so than last season. Behind Taylor, the team’s top five scorers – Jake Love, Jacob DeVries, Race Martin, Dalton Patchen and AJ Knudsen – have all moved on, meaning Taylor, along with returning sophomore Garrett Hull, will likely shoulder the load for CCS.
Sophomore Orin Porter is also expected to contribute. The 6-foot-2 wing from Nevada sat out last season with an injury after starting for CCS in 2014-15.
“He’s very hungry,” Groth said. “He worked really hard in the offseason and is ready to show what he’s got.”
Among the freshman, posts Cesar Sandoval (Moses Lake), guard Cameron Gay (Lakeside HS/Nine Mile Falls) and wing George Pilimai (Shadle Park) are in line for minutes.
Bruce Johnson’s roster has a local flavor. Just how he likes it.
Johnson, entering his 29th season as head coach of the Sasquatch, said he likes to reap the benefits of a strong basketball community. And with seven area players, including five from the Greater Spokane League, he’s built a roster he believes is set up for success.
“We’re such a highly recruited town and the level of play is so good,” Johnson said.
Leading the way is sophomore Brianna King, a North Central product. King led the Sasquatch in scoring (16.1 per game) and assists (3.4 per game) last season.
The Sasquatch need to find a suitable replacement for Khadija Neumeyer, who led the team in rebounding at 6.3 per game. Sophomores Jessica Heine and Kaitlyn Ward, as well as freshman Kaitlyn Wormington will help to fill that void.
Sophomore Cali Moscrip, as well as freshmen Shaye Swannack and Molly Webster, figure to help King in the backcourt. The only problem is Moscrip and Webster are on the CCS soccer team, which is 13-0-1 and clinched the NWAC East Division’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Johnson won’t have them for practice or games until the soccer season is over.
But once they return, Johnson said he feels pretty good about his team.
“We’ve got pretty good depth,” Johnson said. “I’d say probably more depth than I’ve had in five years.”
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