BigO Tyres

All Gas, No Brakes | Ponderosa Basketball Revs Up For Act II All Gas, No Brakes | Ponderosa Basketball Revs Up For Act II
As The Playoffs Arrive, The State’s Last Remaining Unbeaten Div. II Team Is Ready To Prove The Last Three Months Were No Fluke •... All Gas, No Brakes | Ponderosa Basketball Revs Up For Act II

As The Playoffs Arrive, The State’s Last Remaining Unbeaten Div. II Team Is Ready To Prove The Last Three Months Were No Fluke •

There was always an end game. And the Ponderosa basketball team’s seniors have reached it. 

The high school’s 2022 class of hoopers have had high hopes since the time the Bruins’ tri-captains — Nick Von Zboray, Casen Chaney and Aaron Bliss — joined forces on an AAU travel team as eighth-graders. And the dream ending is getting better every day.

“As a group, we are just reaping the benefits of what we planted a long time ago,” Ponderosa basketball coach Clark Woods said of his team, which includes some players that have been teammates since middle school.

The Bruins’ senior stars, as well as a number of the supporting cast, have learned how to play basketball and play together for Woods for as many as eight years. Von Zboray, Chaney and Bliss first joined forces — while attending three different foothill-area middle schools — as eighth-graders. And they knew then that a future together at Ponderosa could bring unprecedented success to the program.

“It’s definitely been a memorable season,” Von Zboray said. “We have been talking about this since we were all in eighth grade — when we were looking ahead and thinking that our senior class and season would be huge.”

Huge might be an understatement. At 27-0, Ponderosa is the state’s last remaining unbeaten team across the top three divisions, according to results reported by The win total has already surpassed the program’s high water mark of 25-4 in 2008, and the Bruins still have postseason play to add to their historic total. 


Follow SportStars on Twitter & Instagram | Like us on Facebook | Subscribe!

The unblemished record and Foothill Valley League title earned Ponderosa the No. 1 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff field, and SportStars’ No. 8 NorCal ranking as of Feb. 14.

The Bruins host St. Mary’s-Stockton in a first-round matchup Friday night. The Rams (16-13) won one of three Div. II play-in games earlier this week. Surprisingly, the playoff opener will be just the seventh home game for Ponderosa. Woods’ squad hit the road for early tournaments and had one home contest against Del Campo-Fair Oaks called off due to COVID-19 issues. The Bruins finished the regular season with 11 neutral court contests and 10 road games.

Ponderosa basketball, Aaron Bliss
Ponderosa Basketball’s double-double machine, 6-foot-10 center Aaron Bliss goes up strong in a Feb. 7 game at Lincoln High. (David Gershon photos)

Coach Woods, a Michigan native who played four years at Sacramento State, hopes his road-tested group can maximize the home-court advantage they earned despite the relative lack of game minutes on their home floor in Shingle Springs. The coach and his team believe the hard work they have put in on the familiar home floor is more important than game time in their gym.

“The biggest catalyst for this season has been all of the guys buying into the process of how hard it is just to be average,” Woods said. “Everybody is committing to their roles and, more importantly, is putting in the work to be the players that they want to become.”

The senior trio of Von Zboray, Chaney and Bliss have become one of the region’s most impressive triple threats. Ponderosa’s “big three” have put up numbers that rank among the section and area’s best in multiple categories.

Chaney is averaging a section-best 7.7 assists per game from the point and the 6-foot-10 Bliss leads all section players with 4.7 blocks per game. Both players have recorded triple-doubles this season with Chaney notching double digits in assists and rebounds, and Bliss dominating the paint while averaging 14.1 points and 15.8 rebounds per game. Von Zboray is among the section’s top scorers with a 21.5 point per game average and an amazing 47 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc. He averages more than five made 3-pointers per contest.

“Casen is our quarterback who controls the tempo. He and Nick are like Batman and Robin out there with Nick’s ability to catch and shoot when Casen gets him the ball,” Woods said. “And the big guy is consistent at both ends, and has great timing and is very strategic to get his blocks.”

Despite the eye-opening statistics and perfect record, the Bruins still play with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. They know opponents may view them as overrated, but they welcome the role of the overlooked underdogs from the foothills.

Casen Chaney
Senior point guard Casen Chaney runs the offense for a Bruins team that won 22 of its 27 games by double digits.

“There are always people that are going to underestimate us because we don’t pass the eye test,” said Von Zboray. “We just let our game speak for us.”

So far, it has spoken volumes this season. Certainly it’s opened the eyes of opponents and observers who have experienced the agony of defeat at the hands of the Bruins. In 27 wins, Ponderosa basketball has rarely been challenged late in the game. It’s won all but five games by double digits. 

The Bruins attribute their lofty margin-of-victory success to the motto Woods has preached to his players for as long as they can remember: All gas, no brakes.

“That’s our motto. Pretty much every play,” Chaney said. “We play as hard as we can and as fast as we can, and 95 percent of the time, we just want to get out fast and score on the opponents.”

Ponderosa got out of the gates fast this season despite playing just 8 of 10 scheduled games during the pandemic-forced 2021 spring season. Woods and his players credit a smooth transition into summer AAU ball for the realization of the team’s potential.

Nick Von Zboray, Ponderosa Basketball
Nick Von Zboray holds his follow through on 3-point attempt at Lincoln High. Von Zboray is a 47 percent shooter behind the arc.

“We were pretty good last season, but everything kind of sparked and came together for us over the summer,” Chaney said. “I honestly was not expecting to go undefeated, but we had high expectations going into the season.”

Those high expectations now transfer to the postseason. Bruins players are steadfast that they will approach every playoff game with the same mindset they employed during the regular season.

“Our message before every game has been, ‘We are 0-0,’” Woods said. “We focus on how we can improve from one game to the next.

“We realize how hard it is to get to the top, and that it is harder to stay there. Our target has been growing with every win.”

The Bruins watch plenty of game film, and most of the tape they break down is their own. Woods and his Bruins are firm believers in understanding their own vulnerabilities to get better every day. The coach compiles more “lowlights” than highlights to ensure that his players learn more about themselves to improve for the next game.

This Ponderosa basketball squad is enjoying the ride and appreciating all that the program has accomplished in 2022. At the same time, the Bruins refuse to lose the humility that got them to this point.

Aaron Bliss
Aaron Bliss rejects a Lincoln High shot attempt to bolster his average of 4.7 blocks per game.

“The job is not finished,” Von Zboray said. “It doesn’t matter what our record is. It doesn’t matter who we play. We are not going to underestimate anyone because we haven’t won it all yet.”

With their eyes firmly on the prize, the Bruins keep alive the dream that began years ago — way back in middle school.

“At the end of the day, we can celebrate our wins and accomplishments so far, but our goal is bigger than that,” Woods said. “We want it all.”

Jim McCue is a senior contributor to SportStars. He lives in Folsom with his wife and three kids, focusing his reporting on the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Jim McCue

Jim McCue is a senior contributor to SportStars. He lives in Folsom with his wife and three kids, focusing his reporting on the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *