The 10 Class 4A coaches that voted in the OSAAtoday preseason poll last month believe Philomath will be the team to beat this season in girls basketball. The Warriors earned eight of 10 first-place votes to overwhelmingly hold down the No. 1 ranking.
PHS coach Ben Silva doesn’t put a lot of stock in preseason polls. They represent a collection of opinions on how the season might come out based on last season’s results and players that might be coming back. In other words, plenty of guesswork.
“Yeah, you’ve got to win some games before polls matter much,” Silva chuckled.
Still, the No. 1 ranking could be seen as a sign of respect for a program that has been on the cusp of winning state titles over the past few years. The 2019-20 team that entered the playoffs seeded No. 1 appeared to be in a good position to take the 4A title but nobody will ever know because the pandemic’s early days led to the cancellation of the state tournament. Last season in an abbreviated collection of spring games, the Warriors reached the 4A Showcase finale only to lose a close one to Hidden Valley in overtime.
With that level of heartache, it’s easy to see why Philomath’s players have adopted the slogan, “unfinished business” for this coming campaign.
“The seniors were excited when we first met and they wanted to get back on the court and show what we’re capable of doing, especially with the way the last two seasons have ended,” Silva said. “Last year, we were right there, we were right there — a couple of balls fall for us and a couple don’t for them and it’s a different story.”
Philomath opens the regular season on Saturday with a jaunt over to Junction City. The tip-off is scheduled for 5:45 p.m.
One of the biggest reasons for Philomath’s high praise from opposing coaches has to be rooted in the fact that Sage Kramer is back in uniform for a final go-round with the Warriors before heading off to college. Kramer has quite the reputation in 4A circles when it comes to her skill level on the basketball court.
“She’s had a huge part in our success over the last three years and we’re happy to have her for one more year,” Silva said. “We know what she’s able to do. … What impresses me the most is just how much better she’s continued to get year after year. She’s looking really strong this year and we’re expecting huge things from her again.”
Kramer is off to a slow start to the season, however, with a leg that’s been bothering her, Silva said. She’s been held out of practices and didn’t play in Wednesday’s jamboree at Crescent Valley.
“She can score inside, outside, she’s tough getting to the hoop,” Silva said. “Every team we play, they have to have a game plan for what they’re going to do to try to slow her down at least. We’ll use her in much the same way that we have the last couple of years. She’s had one of the best careers in Philomath history without a doubt so we’re excited for one more year with her.”
The Warriors have plenty of other players that can contribute with Reagan Larson, Hailie Couture, K Bacho and Abigail Brown among those back in uniform this season.
“Reagan Larson is another senior coming back … she’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the state,” Silva said. “She was all year last year as a junior and we expect the same from her this year. We’re hoping she’ll come in and score a little bit more, which she’s capable of doing.”
Brown, listed on the roster at 6-foot-3, can block shots, secure rebounds and has the potential to score more.
“She really started to shine, I think, at the final four tournament — had her two best games there so we’re expecting her to pick up where she left off,” Silva said. “She’s gotten a little bit taller and can score on the offensive end but on the defensive end, I mean, she can really defend the paint and she makes a difference.”
Bacho is another senior with abilities on both ends.
“K Bacho came in and gave us a lot of big minutes towards the end of the year last year,” Silva said. “She’s tough defensively and athletic and can get to the hoop and score.”
Couture can contribute either at guard or post.
“She’s done a great job showing leadership this year — she was just a sophomore on varsity last year and we expect her to continue to progress,” Silva said. “She’s done a great job in practice leading by example but vocally as well.”
Silva is also high on senior Cassidy Lewis.
“She’s played mostly JV the last couple of years but she’s going to be tough inside,” Silva said.
Junior Mia Bennett will likely see more time on the floor, getting some varsity minutes last season. Another junior, Ingrid Hellesto, didn’t see any varsity time but has the type of athleticism that Silva expects will lead to minutes.
Others on the varsity roster heading in include senior Devn Vogler, who is only in her second year of playing high school basketball, and sophomores Ahnika Tryon and Clara Stanley, who will be swing players with the junior varsity.
“Oh, they’ve been working hard so far,” Silva said about his team in preseason workouts. “I mean, we’re going to grind it a lot and play great defense hopefully. I think each girl is going to be ready to step up and play her role and take care of business on the court.”
Philomath’s girls basketball team overall shows 29 in the program — a sign of progress compared to the 19 three seasons ago.
The schedule shows tournaments at Coos Bay and Astoria. The Warriors will play at home only twice in December — the bigger of the two coming Dec. 21 when Hidden Valley visits the PHS gym for a rematch of last season’s 4A finale.
Philomath will play at Corvallis on Jan. 3 before launching into Oregon West play.
“Cascade is a group that’s played together since they were freshmen and they’re going to be tough,” Silva said when asked for his insight on the Oregon West. “Sisters and Woodburn have both improved a ton the last three years.”
In all of 4A, Hidden Valley is ranked No. 2 in that preseason poll. Cascade and Baker are also teams that should be in the mix come playoff time.
“I think Hidden Valley will be tough, they lost quite a bit, but they return quite a bit as well,” Silva said. “Cascade will be good. Baker has always been around towards the end of the season … It’s a little hard to say this early on.”
Silva’s staff of assistants includes John Hanson, Malori Warren and Lauren Berklund. Hanson will head up the JV team and Warren will be the JV2 head coach.
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