Senior-heavy Yelm boys basketball sets sights on top-two SSC finish


With the 2023 boys basketball season just around the corner, the Tornados, led by a senior-heavy class, prepare for a South Sound Conference schedule described by Yelm’s head coach Dave Wasankari as being extremely balanced.

The coach said his team, led by seniors Damian Aalona, Marius Aalona, Damien Williams-Butler and junior Alex Segarra, will attack opposing teams with a balanced offensive approach. Wasankari said the Tornados, including senior Onyx Carter, will spread the ball around on their possessions.

“This is a group that’s very competitive. They’re a group that competes every day at practice. They play multiple sports together, and they’ll show up every day to battle and get better,” Wasankari said. “They’ve been to the playoffs three years in a row, and this group of seniors has been one of the most successful we’ve had in a long time. With the experience they have, they’re going to give their best effort in their senior year, and that gives us an opportunity to win each and every night.”

Wasankari said the team’s goal, like every other year, is to reach its fullest potential. He said the team aims to finish in the top two in league, which provides it an easier path into the state tournament.

“That’s the position you want to be in,” Wasankari said. “The league is going to be balanced and competitive this year. A lot of the coaches are thinking North Thurston is the favorite, then there’s us, Capital and Timberline fighting for the second spot. For us to get there, we have to get there in a hurry. Everyone already has three or four games on us, and for us to get there we need to be mentally tough early in the season.”

Wasankari said the team will open up against non-conference Bonney Lake at home, followed by a tough stretch of road SSC matchups. The team will travel to Gig Harbor High School on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and then to Peninsula High School on Wednesday, Dec. 13, and to Capital High School on Friday, Dec. 15.

“Each one of those games is really important,” Wasankari said. “If we want to get to where we want to go, we have to come out of that stretch 2-1 at the minimum. Like any other game, you’re playing game to game, and your preparation is that day for that game.”

Wasankari said his group built its confidence during the summer league and had a good summer, overall. 

“We tweaked our offense to match our personnel a little differently. I think we matured. We’re a year older,” Wasankari said. “Being a heavy senior-laden team, there’s a lot of competitors getting older and becoming more mature, understanding the game more and turning into young men. They’re easier to coach when they’re like that.

“Just like every year in basketball, someone will step up. Damian (Aalona) has been a very selfless point guard, but he’ll take on more of a scoring role this year. Marius is starting to get a taste of what he can bring offensively and will take on a scoring role, too,” Wasankari continued. “We’re also expecting Onyx and Butler to bring a dynamic to the team.”

Wasankari believes the team can accomplish some special feats this year, including a top-two league finish and a berth in the state playoffs and is hopeful to see strong support from the community throughout the season.

“If the community comes out and watches these kids, they’ll see a group of competitors that are fun to watch,” Wasankari said. “We’re working on being our best moving into February. These are a cool group of kids.”

Yelm, who went 7-12 (6-8 SSC) during the 2022-23 season, will host North Thurston on Wednesday, Dec. 20, following its three-game SSC road stretch. The team will host SSC rival Timberline in its fifth SSC matchup of the season, Friday, Dec. 22.