Oregon Tech’s biggest question entering the 2018-19 season was who would play inside.
The answer came in two players who grew up playing basketball in Central Oregon — Garret Albrecht and Matt Van Tassell.
“Beginning of the year if you were to say there was a weakness among our group, it was probably inside, but by the end of the year I felt that those two (Albrecht and Van Tassell) were as good as there were in the (Cascade) conference,” Oregon Tech coach Justin Parnell said. “They were tremendous inside.”
One of Albrecht and Tassell’s most productive games in the Owls run to the NAIA Division II championship game came in the tournament’s quarterfinals on March 9 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Against Indiana Wesleyan, the No. 1 overall seed and defending national champions, Albrecht, a redshirt sophomore who graduated from Ridgeview in 2016, had 16 points and nine rebounds. While Van Tassell, a freshman from Mountain View, added 14 points off the bench as Oregon Tech, a No. 2 seed, upset the Wildcats 107-93.
“We were a big underdog and no one really expected us to win, and we came out and played one of our best games of the year,” Albrecht said. “We played amazing. We shot the ball well and were able to run them and tire them out.”
Albrecht, a 6-foot-9-inch, 220-pound forward, was matched up against Evan Maxwell, a 6-10, 250-pound transfer from the University of Kansas.
“They were unbelievable,” Parnell said of both Albrecht and Van Tassell. “They just didn’t back down. They went right at him (Maxwell). You couldn’t tell who the Division I transfer was in that game.”
Oregon Tech also turned up the pace against the larger Wildcats.
“One of my jobs is to run the floor really well,” Albrecht said. “You could definitely tell he (Maxwell) was getting tired. I got some transition points, and it was just a lot easier to score after I wore him out a little bit.”
Van Tassell, a 6-7, 215-pound forward, got Maxwell out of the paint by going 3-for-4 on 3-pointers.
“I was able to step out beyond the arc and shoot 3s,” Van Tassell said. “It helped to space out the floor and pull those bigs out of their comfort zone. I don’t care who I’m playing against, I’m going to do my best and dominate. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the mindset that I try to have.”
The quarterfinal win was a huge confidence booster for the Owls, who as the No. 1 seed were upset by No. 8 Northwest in the first round of the Cascade Conference tournament in February.
“We felt like they (Indiana Wesleyan) were one of the best teams in the tournament, so we got the feeling that maybe we could go all the way with this thing,” Albrecht said. “That game gave us a lot of confidence and just a feeling that we belong.”
The Owls nearly did go all the way, but after defeating conference rival The College of Idaho 93-81 on March 11 in the semifinals, Oregon Tech lost to Spring Arbor (Michigan) 82-76 the following night in the championship game.
“I had one of my worst games of the year, so that sucked,” said Albrecht, who was 0-for-6 from the field with five rebounds. “But being at that game and that atmosphere was awesome. It didn’t come out the way we wanted but we know now what it takes and what we need to get better at for the coming year. That’s the good thing about it.”
Albrecht finished the season averaging 8.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
“It was special, getting to play a lot of minutes on a good college team is something that I always grew up as a little kid thinking about,” Albrecht added. “To be able to do it and have a couple more years is an awesome feeling.”
Playing just over 13 minutes a game, Van Tassell averaged 8.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in his first season with the Owls.
“It was definitely the best basketball experience of my life,” Van Tassell said. “It’s really fun being a part of a team where everybody is so tight and no one really cares about getting theirs. There is a common goal and we’re doing this for each other. It’s pretty special.”
Van Tassell will be counted on even more next season.
“He’s so good that we have to find more minutes for him,” Parnell said. “There were games when he was the best guy on the floor at any position. They’re both great kids, both of them super high character, good students, good representatives of our program, and second, they’re both obviously talented and have a great work ethic.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0307, email@example.com