Abigail Brown and Cassidy Lewis
Abigail Brown, right, gives a celebratory hug to teammate Cassidy Lewis. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

COOS BAY — The state championship celebration that erupted on Saturday night with a 46-35 win over Corbett had been two years in the making.

Exactly two years earlier, on March 12, 2020, Philomath High’s girls basketball team was preparing to open the 4A tournament at Forest Grove with a quarterfinal matchup against Cottage Grove. The Warriors had been No. 1 all season with a dominant run that most expected to end with a title trophy.

But this was the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and everyday life was beginning to shut down. First, the games were going to be played with no spectators. Then, they were canceled altogether. Anger, pain, disbelief and disappointment followed with coaches and players on that team never getting the opportunity to earn the official title of state champion.

Later that same day in a quiet PHS gymnasium, players took turns cutting down the net. Emma Pankalla, Mia Rust, Braedyn McNeely, Rivers Nuno, Kaili Saathoff and a few other seniors and juniors were among those on the roster that season.

PHS coach Ben Silva said the pain of what happened to his team in 2020 will never go away.

“Professionally, that was one of the hardest things to do as a coach,” Silva said. “You can deal with losing basketball games but having it taken away from you, you know, that stung.”

Still, the coach was happy to see this 2021-22 version of Warriors girls basketball get the job done.

“This helps, you know, especially for those girls that were part of the team at that point in time and on the bus and to be denied that opportunity,” Silva said. “To be able to come back and get one right here is fantastic. … I know former players are happy that we finally got one.”

Philomath High girls reach goal of winning state championship

COOS BAY — The sound of the final buzzer echoing through Marshfield High’s gymnasium late Saturday night set off a crazy celebration. The players jumped for joy and fell into a heap near midcourt. The student section erupted and rushed the floor. Coaches and managers hugged one another. Parents and fans cheered and captured the…

Sage Kramer was a sophomore and Abigail Brown a freshman on the 2020 varsity team. Several others who were part of Saturday night’s state title game were also in the program at the junior varsity level.

“I don’t even know what to say — it just feels so good,” said Kramer, who scored 23 in the win over Corbett. “I can’t believe that we came from that to two years later winning the championship here in Coos Bay. It’s just amazing, I’m just thanking God.”

With the final score in the background, head coach Ben Silva and senior Sage Kramer celebrate in the moment. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Besides the painful memory of that morning up in Forest Grove, the team also came up one win short on the same floor in last season’s 4A Showcase. The unsanctioned tournament that had been set up by Class 4A athletic directors and coaches ended with Hidden Valley edging Philomath, 44-39, to cap a pandemic-shortened season.

“To come back and win it on the same court and win it all is a huge accomplishment,” PHS senior Reagan Larson said. 

The 2021-22 version of the Warriors certainly put in the work to accomplish its top goal. Silva credits Kramer for her leadership to push the team to go beyond what they could do in practice.

“They had their own little workout program that they would do before we even got into the gym every day because they’d identify things that they needed to work on,” Silva said. “They just did a fantastic job of growing and developing and buying into the system and executing throughout the course of the season to get where we’re at.”

Couture also mentioned additional skill-sharpening sessions leading up to the title game.

“The last few practices, we spent like a half of an hour after each practice just shooting around and working on our own stuff and that shows,” Couture said. “Not a lot of other teams do that … we’re one team that does and that’s why we won this game.”

Sage Kramer takes a turn at cutting down the net. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Despite No. 1 rankings and impressive victories, Silva said the team’s level of play in December wouldn’t have won any state titles. But the ballclub improved with each passing week to peak at the right time.

“We had a fire in us that no one else had,” Brown said. “I just feel so blessed to get to play with these girls … they are amazing athletes and I cannot wait to see what they do in the future. It feels so good to win with them.”

Added Larson, “It’s an indescribable feeling — the amount of emotion and happiness. We finished business … we finally did it.”

Players and coaches had to get through a long day of tournament action leading up to the big finale. So what did they do to keep their minds busy?

Reagan Larson, left, and Hailie Couture celebrate. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Nothing special, really. In fact, just like everybody else who took in the day’s action at Marshfield High, Larson said, “We watched a lot of basketball and ate a lot of food.”

After the game, the team participated in the traditional cutting down of the net — this time in a raucous gym with everyone celebrating. Players, managers, coaches, everybody associated with the team had a turn. Silva was the last to climb the ladder and after a final snip, he draped what was left of the net around his neck.

Then he rejoined his players — more celebrating, more hugs. They wanted to make the moment last.

For Kramer, she leaves Philomath High’s program as one of the most productive players to ever wear the uniform.

Summing up the experience, Kramer said, “There’s been a lot of adversity throughout it, a lot of ups and downs, but I’m just so glad to be here now and end it on a high. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.