Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Both perfectly capable of excelling on their own, Rogue Valley Adventist's Caleb Allen and Micah Neufeld understand how much more effective they can be when working together.
As a one-two punch for the Red Tail Hawks, Allen and Neufeld have been dynamic in helping lead Rogue Valley Adventist to another breakout campaign under boys basketball head coach Mike Glasgow.
The Hawks enter tonight's home game against Triad with an 18-4 overall record and 13-1 mark in Mountain Valley League play, which is tied for first with Hosanna Christian. Rogue Valley Adventist stands sixth in the state's Class 1A power rankings.
"The big difference this year is we just work hard and shoot the ball better from the outside than in the past and teams do have a harder time defending us," says Glasgow, whose team is locked into the MVL's No. 2 seed behind the Lions due to a tiebreaker barring an unusual turn of events with two league games to go.
As a 6-foot-3, 160-pound forward, Allen leads the Hawks at 22 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and two assists per game, while the 5-11, 150-pound Neufeld averages 17.4 points, six rebounds, two steals and two assists. Allen is shooting 51 percent from the field and Neufeld is at 43 percent.
Helping create a nice balance for RVA is senior Jonathan Alvarez and junior Jonathan James, who each average 7.4 points. Alvarez also doles out an average of six assists while 6-2 senior post Austin Petray contributes eight rebounds and four points per game.
Allen hit the 46-point mark earlier this season in an 83-76 win over Loma Linda Academy of California in the Pioneer Invitational on Dec. 2, connecting on 14 of 20 field goals and 17 of 26 free throws to go with 15 rebounds and five steals. It was his steal and subsequent lay-in during the final minute of play last year that lifted RVA to a 49-48 win at Crane and into the Class 1A state tournament for the first time in program history.
"He'll play guard some and forward and all the positions, really," says Glasgow. "Anything I ask him to do he can play it so it's really nice when you have someone that's versatile like that."
Despite his role as the team's go-to player, the junior Allen bristles at the notion that his teammates aren't just as valuable to the equation.
"I'm not scoring as much this year, which is honestly perfectly fine for me," he says. "Our whole starting five is capable of scoring and that's exactly what it should be and not some kind of a one-man show. It's never been a one-man show around here, and that's a great thing. We've got a great couple of guards and two posts who are doing as much as anyone else."
Still, Neufeld says there's no doubt who sets the tone for the Hawks.
"His whole energy out there and the way he plays just pumps everyone else up and makes us want to play harder, just to keep up with him," says the 17-year-old senior. "He's definitely one of the hardest workers out there. His intensity for the game and some of the moves he does out there are just intense."
Scoring points in bunches has never been a problem for Allen, who began his career at RVA by dropping in 18 points per game and bumped that up to 20 points last season. In his third year on varsity, Allen says he's realized that points don't mean everything when it comes to personal and team success.
"I think at first I thought being a good player was all about how many points you could score," says Allen, "but I've noticed I'm sharing the ball a lot more and my teammates are getting better because of it and they're getting more confident."
Nowhere is that more evident than with Neufeld, who came on for the Hawks toward the end of last season as RVA made a run to the 1A state tournament in Baker. Neufeld has taken his game up a notch this year and really taking a large burden off Allen's shoulders.
"Without him we would not be where we're at," says Glasgow. "He's made a big difference. If we didn't have the outside threat with him and Jonathan James, we'd be in trouble. With them around, teams just can't sag back in the middle and try to stop Caleb."
Allen has great praise for his key running mate, who was named the team's MVP last season for his late surge after four players were suspended from the team in the final month of the season. The Hawks scored their first two state playoff wins before going 0-2 at the final site.
"Micah was a huge, huge reason why we made it to state last year," says Allen, 17. "He's probably one of the hardest workers I've ever seen in my life and that's what we needed was for him to step up. I think he's stepped it up at probably one of the most perfect times for me. Coming in as a freshman I did pretty good and everybody was kinda thinking they've got to watch me now and double- and triple-team me, and that's just left Micah wide open."
Due to his increased maturity on the court, Allen is learning how to punish teams by how they're playing defense against the Hawks.
"He's more patient in that area now and gets his teammates involved a lot more and that's one reason we're scoring better from the outside," says Glasgow. "When you have two or three people collapse on him, he's smart enough to get rid of it and find the open man."
Allen says he's picked up a lot over his years and the most important has been on how to be an effective leader.
"We had a lot of good leadership when I was a freshman and I looked up to them a lot and that really taught me how to set an example for other people now," he says. "I wasn't going to be a yelling leader and make people feel bad, I just wanted to be the kind of leader who shows you how to do it on the court and set that example. This is a very, very unselfish team and I think that's one of the biggest reasons why we've been winning. We can't do that if I'm not willing to share the ball and we don't all trust each other."
Half of RVA's losses this season have come against Class 3A Cascade Christian, ranked fifth at its level, and the Hawks are confident that the future is bright if they can just keep doing what they're doing.
"I think our team has a really, really good chance of going to state and actually doing something there," says Allen. "If we don't, that's totally fine, as long as we know we tried our hearts out."
Two factors helping make that last part happen is the spirit of support the Hawks receive in the only sport RVA fields teams in, and the players' dedication to Glasgow.
"Because it's our only sport we put all our efforts into basketball and we have so much community support," says Allen. "It brings the whole school together and people from everywhere now know about the little Adventist school from Medford that made it (to the state tourney in Baker)."
"But most of all," he adds, "we're really fighting for our coach this year. He puts in so much time and effort and does so much for us. We're not going to go out there and embarrass him, we're going to go out there and play our butts off and make him proud most of all."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry