Philomath High School gymnasium
Philomath High School gymnasium (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High’s girls basketball players really want to get back on the court. That’s not unusual for any group of athletes that have been denied the opportunity to compete, but the girls basketball program is especially stacked with talent and many believe they would be adding state championship trophies to the school’s collection.

This is the second in a series of four stories on
Philomath High’s Session 3 sports teams that
began practicing on Nov. 9. Monday—Boys
basketball; Today—Girls basketball; Wednesday—
Wrestling; and Thursday—Swimming).

“This senior group we have right now is very talented and has had a lot of success and been a huge part of our success over the past couple of years,” third-year PHS coach Ben Silva said last week after Season 1, Session 3 workouts were suspended because of increased restrictions. “They want to get out there on the court and make up for lost opportunities from last year.”

To review, Philomath survived a scare or two last season but ran through the Oregon West Conference with a 12-0 record. The team dropped a postseason tune-up game against 5A playoff-bound West Albany to finish 24-1 overall. The No. 1-ranked Warriors defeated Phoenix by 26 points in the first round and were getting ready to take the court on March 12 in the quarterfinals against Cottage Grove when the playoffs were canceled.

Philomath hasn’t lost to a 4A opponent since March 9, 2019, in the state quarterfinals.

Silva said that among the players participating in Session 3 workouts were six seniors — five of those being varsity returnees from last season. This year’s seniors that saw varsity minutes in 2019-20 include guards Braedyn McNeely and Phaedra Hinds-Cook, and post players Mia Rust, Kamden Combs and Kaili Saathoff.

“We try to communicate with them, staying upbeat and positive about what we’re doing,” Silva said. “Coach (John) Hanson everyday says, ‘Make the most of the day.’”

The message that workouts needed to be suspended came after the team had gone through four practices.

“We’re honest with them and they understand the situation we’re in,” Silva said. “We just say that we’re hopeful that we’re going to have a season.”

The program appears to be more popular than ever based on the number of students that signed up for the voluntary Session 3 practices.

“We had great numbers … we had 31 girls sign up, which is fantastic for us,” Silva said. “Two years ago, we had 19 girls in our program for the actual season so we’re really excited about the participation numbers.”

Silva said the team worked in small groups and focused on skill work and conditioning — all “good basketball stuff that everybody needs.”

“We walked through some offense and stuff like that but you can’t do it on defense, so it’s pretty hard to get a feel for it,” Silva said. “Also, it’s rebuilding that camaraderie and being around each other again.”

The practices gave the coaching staff — which includes Silva, Hanson and Malori Warren (formerly Malori Ambrose) — and the athletes a chance to get out of the house and away from computer screens.

“I’ve been working from home, doing the distance learning from home, so it’s been fantastic having a different view and just being near the gym again,” Silva said. “To hear them laugh and stuff … and just being able to interact with the kids again has been fantastic.”

Silva knows his players feel the same way, saying, “They mentioned that multiple times — that it was a joy just being around each other again.”

The Oregon School Activities Association’s executive board will discuss the plan moving forward during a Dec. 7 meeting. Recent COVID-19 infection numbers have not looked good but coaches, athletes, parents and fans are clinging to the hope that some sort of season can occur.