Thoughts of last season’s abrupt end to Philomath High’s girls basketball season still stings. The Warriors were seeded No. 1, unbeaten in Class 4A and had one of those starting lineups that simply dominated most opponents.
Now, Philomath prepares to take the floor again for the first time in 14 months with Friday’s season opener at Woodburn. The Warriors have a lot of weapons returning from that 24-1 team, including the Class 4A Player of the Year in junior Sage Kramer.
Third-year coach Ben Silva believes his team can refocus and return to an elite playing level to once again challenge for top honors. Although the Oregon School Activities Association is not sanctioning postseason tournaments and crowning state champions, the Warriors will be trying to qualify for a playoff that has been organized by Class 4A athletic directors.
“I think without a doubt, we were the best team in the state and had a great opportunity there going to Forest Grove,” Silva said before practice Wednesday. “Then having to come home that morning when we were expecting to play was pretty crushing for the whole program. So we’re excited that there’s going to be that culminating week activity because we’re still very talented and we think we should be there as long as we take care of business.”
The attack starts with Kramer, a 5-foot-11 wing who can score from anywhere on the court on offense and disrupt the opposition with turnover-inducing abilities on defense. Kramer averaged around 26 points per game against league opponents in 2019-20 — PHS will play only conference opponents this season — and even had a couple of 40-point performances.
Beyond Kramer, Philomath has plenty of other strong contributors in seniors Mia Rust, Braedyn McNeely and Kaili Saathoff. Rust joined Kramer as a first-team all-league selection as well as all-state honors. McNeely also earned all-league recognition.
“All were major contributors to our success last year,” Silva said about his three seniors. “We have two seniors that unfortunately suffered injuries in their fall sports (Phaedra Hinds-Cook) and spring sports (Kamden Combs).”
Silva said fans will see much of the same on offense this season, although he did admit that the team’s potential inside may change the dynamic a bit.
“We still hope to fly around and get up and down the court,” Silva said. “I think it’ll look pretty similar — we still have the athletes to do it. We have more of a post presence this year, so that’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.”
Silva was referring to the 5-foot-11 Saathoff and 6-2 sophomore Abigail Brown.
“You don’t see height like that too often at our level with multiple girls that can move and are really effective around the hoop,” said Silva, whose career record at PHS is 47-6.
Kramer and Rust both qualified for the state track meet in Florence but it appears they’ll be able to get to their first two basketball games in the evening on Friday and Saturday.
Silva said Brown has been strong in preseason workouts.
“She’ll be able to contribute quite a bit at the varsity level this year,” he said. “We’re really excited about her … she’s been looking very good in basketball.”
Sophomores Hailie Couture and Mia Bennett are among those that have also caught the attention of coaches.
“We have some other kids that played JV last year that will come in and contribute at the varsity level,” Silva said. “Hailie Couture has been doing a great job in practice this week and looking really strong. She’ll be playing point guard for us. Mia Bennett will get some minutes.”
Juniors Cassidy Lewis and Reagan Larson, and sophomores K Bacho and Madeline Fields are also listed on the varsity heading into the season.
“Things are still in flux a little bit just because we had so many girls in spring sports,” Silva said, “but we’re still having girls trickle in so some of those teams are yet to be defined as far as where girls are going to be.”
The state tournament that has been organized by 4A athletic directors will be made up of the six conference champions along with two top second-place teams.
Philomath enters the season with 26 athletes in the girls basketball program, which is very good news for Silva and the coaching staff.
“That was one of our bigger concerns and we weren’t really sure how many kids were going to come out,” Silva said. “As coaches, we talked about how this year felt a little bit like restarting. … But the girls have gotten right back in the gym and they’re working real hard. We’re pleased to see that and to be able to focus on just basketball again has been fantastic.”
With those numbers, PHS plans to have both JV and JV2 squads. Their head coaches return with John Hanson leading the JV and Malori Ambrose leading JV2. Former player Lauren Berklund will help as a volunteer assistant.
“I just heard today (Wednesday) that the ADs had a meeting and there are schools that don’t have a JV team, so we’re pretty fortunate in that the program we built up over the last couple of years to have this many girls out,” Silva said. “Because we have enough for three teams, we’re looking to add some JV2 games against 5A schools.”
After the road game on Friday, the Warriors will make their season debut on the home floor at 7 p.m. Saturday against Cascade. The tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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