Sammamish trio have Crusaders pointed toward state tourney

February 11, 2014

By Neil Pierson

When the Eastside Catholic boys basketball team knocked off O’Dea on Jan. 31 to win the Metro League Mountain Division title, it may have signaled a turning point in the program’s history.

“The last time the team won the division was 1999, and that was the last time they went to state also,” said Nathan Christie, a senior guard/forward.

The Crusaders (17-3 overall, 14-2 league) have received contributions throughout their lineup this winter, and part of the credit goes to Sammamish residents Matisse Thybulle, and twin brothers Nathan and Ian Christie.

Much of the responsibility for directing the team on the court falls to Nathan Christie, a stocky 6-foot-4 senior. Under third-year coach Bill Liley, Eastside Catholic likes to use a motion offense that relies more on improvisation than set plays.

“Nobody’s selfish on the team, but basically my job is to be the most unselfish person and set other people up,” Nathan said.

A balanced, high-scoring offense has been a major reason for the Crusaders’ emergence as one of the top Class 3A teams in the state. Seven players average at least six points per game, including Thybulle (12.7), Nathan Christie (8.6) and Ian Christie (7.8).

“Everyone shares the ball,” said Ian, a 6-3 senior forward. “We don’t have one person that just has to carry the load on their back the whole time. Everyone contributes. There’s no drop-off when our second group goes in, so it’s really good for the whole team.”

The Crusaders celebrated Senior Night Feb. 4 against West Seattle, and the Christie brothers went out with a bang in a 77-70 victory.

The visiting Wildcats sported an unimpressive league record of 5-8, but they gave the Crusaders all they could handle. They led 34-33 at halftime, then took a one-point lead with 3 minutes, 33 seconds left before Eastside Catholic closed the game on a 13-5 run.

Mandrell Worthy had 23 points to pace Eastside Catholic, but he had plenty of help. Nathan Christie had 10 of his 15 points after halftime, including a key layup with 1:17 left that pushed the Crusaders’ lead to five.

And Thybulle, a 6-5 junior forward, threw down a pair of alley-oop dunks in the first quarter as part of his 14 points.

Thybulle, who transferred from Skyline to Eastside Catholic last summer, said his new teammates “welcomed me with open arms,” and that’s helped ease his transition into a completely different system.

“Liley has given me and pretty much everyone on our team the opportunity to create,” he explained. “With our motions, we have screeners whose sole purpose is to get me or (someone else) open. And if we’re open, he trusts us enough to put the ball in the basket and make the right decisions.”

The Crusaders have had very few bumps in the road en route to the Mountain Division crown. Their only losses were against nonleague foe Chaminade (Calif.) at a holiday tournament, and against perennial Metro powerhouses O’Dea and Rainier Beach.

Their 100-70 loss to Rainier Beach Jan. 10 may have been humbling, but the Crusaders are preparing for a different outcome if they see the defending 3A champion and nationally-ranked Vikings again.

“They’re a good team and everything, but they’re definitely not unbeatable,” Ian Christie said. “They have weaknesses. We didn’t play our best game against them.”

The Christie brothers have been playing together since kindergarten, but they may go their separate ways in a few months. They haven’t chosen colleges yet, and they’re unsure whether they’ll continue their basketball careers.

That makes it even more imperative to enjoy the ride they’re currently on.

“Getting all this success is really nice, and having it to share with my brother and all of our teammates is really nice,” Ian said.

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