Vale varsity basketball coach Colby Shira watches his team practice last week. Shira is cautiously optimistic about the Viking's prospects in regular season play. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL).

VALE – In one sense, Vale High School varsity basketball coach Colby Shira has every reason to expect a long string of successes through the grueling January prep hoop schedule.

His Vikings, after all, were 9-3 after a December of interstate clashes with the likes of Payette and New Plymouth.

Last week, the Vikings defeated Irrigon, 57-29 in their first league game of the season.

Shira’s team is full of veterans, with seven seniors on the Viking roster. Vale also showcases a talented corps of underclassmen. Vale lost only one starter from the 2021 pandemic-shortened season.

Case in point: Vale’s leading scorer through 12 games is sophomore forward Diesel Johnson.

Vale finished the 2021 season with a 3-0 mark.   

Shira, though, has coached the Vikings far too long to take anything for granted. While he concedes he is confident about his varsity squad he also knows the January and February basketball game slate can evolve into a meat-grinder.

“It is a long season,” he said one day last week at practice in the Vale High School gym.

Then he stopped, surveyed his players running drills on the hardwood, and seemed for a moment to be in deep thought.

“I give us a good shot at the league (championship),” he said.

Seniors Adam Diaz, Adam Ramirez, John Wolfe, Tanner Steele, Dawson Mariscal, Lane Clark and Kade Kurata deliver hard-earned experience to the Viking squad.

Johnson, Wolfe and Steel are the core starters, said Shira.

The Vikings suffered a non-league loss to New Plymouth in their first game of season and then won four straight before Payette handed Vale a 50-44 non-conference defeat Dec. 14. Vale lost to La Grande 61-56 two days later then claimed four straight wins.

The December non-league schedule helped the Vikings “grow a lot,” said Shira.

He likes what he sees now, he said.

“We are a very hard-nosed defensive team with plenty of offensive talent,” he said.

Shira said another critical attribute to his 2021-2022 squad is its competiveness.

“Every practice is a game for us. This is a very strong group of kids,” he said.

Kurata, who plays forward, said the focus for the Vikings is to “get better every day.”

Last week Kurata was still nursing an ankle injury but said he was confident going into the regular season schedule.

“This is a great group of guys. I think this is the best team I’ve played on,” said Kurata.

Kurata said the Vikings must focus and tune out distractions going forward.

“We just need to have good practices and can’t let things get into our heads,” he said.

The veteran nature of the team is also a plus, said Kurata.

“We return everyone but one from last year and I think that is huge,” he said.

Steele, also a forward, said he doesn’t think the Vikings have “reached our full potential yet.”

Steele said the Vikings had a “pretty good pre-season” but also recognized league play will be different.

“Once you get into league, records are pretty much out the window,” he said.

Vale faced Weiser Tuesday in a non-league game.

Thursday Vale will play Burns at home at 6 p.m. in what could be an early-season barometer for the Vikings.

Kurata said the Vikings have a specific goal.

“I definitely think we want to make it to the playoffs,” said Kurata.

News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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