Chad Russell and his Philomath teammates will face back-to-back tough games with visits from Stayton on Thursday and Cascade on Monday. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Warrior Watch is Brad Fuqua’s midweek look at Philomath High athletics with his takes on the school’s sports teams.

The Philomath High boys and girls basketball teams are about to play the two most important games of the season. If either squad wants to grab at least a share of the Oregon West Conference title, they will need to win out with wins on Thursday against Stayton and on Monday against Cascade.

The good news? Those games will be played in the PHS gymnasium. Thursday’s games against the Eagles begin at 5:30 p.m. with the boys followed by the girls at 7 p.m.

Philomath’s boys remain in the No. 1 spot in both the OSAAtoday coaches poll and in the OSAA rankings. The Warriors have several high-caliber victories this season, including two over Junction City. Incidentally, the Tigers are 22-2, beating everybody but PHS.

Stayton brings a respectable team to Philomath with a No. 8 ranking and 15-6 record. The Eagles lost to the Warriors on their own floor by 10 points on Jan. 31. Philomath attacked with balanced scoring — the five starters had eight to 12 points. Stayton, meanwhile, will come at Philomath with Garrett Callsen, the team’s senior post. He had 19 against the Warriors in the first meeting.

If the Warriors can get by the Eagles, that will set up a regular-season finale against Cascade. The Cougars, which must feel slighted with their No. 2 ranking in the coaches poll and No. 3 position in the OSAA rankings, edged the Warriors 50-49 on Feb. 2. Cascade will beat Newport on Thursday and bring a 19-3 record into Philomath on Monday evening.

In the game a couple of weeks ago, Cascade built an early lead on the Warriors and held a 16-point advantage at halftime. Philomath made a good run in the second half and had its chances to snag the win but came up just short. Guards Landon Knox and Spencer Horne combined for 34 points and the Cougars hit five 3-pointers on the Warrior defense.

Philomath prides itself on playing effectively on defense and the team’s season statistics back it up. The Warriors allow only 37.4 points per game — which easily leads Class 4A. Philomath has allowed an opponent to score 50-plus points four times this season — twice in Alaska and the other two times in the last two weeks against Cascade and North Marion.

Emily Taunisila (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High’s girls find themselves in the same situation. The Warriors, sitting at No. 7 in both the coaches poll and in the OSAA rankings, defeated Stayton by eight points in a low-scoring Jan. 31 matchup. Freshman guard Emily Taunisila had an effective evening for PHS with a dozen points while Stayton sophomore forward Kenzi Hollenbeck threw in 18 for the Eagles.

Stayton comes into the game with a 12-9 record and the No. 15 OSAA ranking. The Warriors are sitting at 14-6 on the season.

Again, just like the boys, if the Warriors can pull out the win on Thursday, that sets up a game for the Oregon West title on Monday. Cascade beat the Warriors, 34-23, on Feb. 2, in one of Philomath’s poorest offensive games of the season.

The Warriors had a rough start to the season in December but seemed to turn a corner during the tournament appearance in Alaska. In fact, after falling to that event’s host school on Dec. 30, Philomath has won nine of 10 games. The lone loss, however, came to Cascade.

In that one, the Warriors were held to single digits in each of the four quarters and the team’s top scorer, senior Abigail Brown, had nine points. Cascade didn’t exactly bury a bunch of shots on its end either with 34 points but it was enough to get a double-digit win.

Cascade would be 13-6 coming into the game unless it slips up at home Thursday against Newport — which seems very unlikely. The Cougars are No. 8 in the coaches poll and No. 10 in the OSAA rankings.

One more parallel to the boys to mention here. Philomath has the No. 1 scoring defense in Class 4A girls basketball, allowing just 32.7 points per game.

It should be an interesting five-day stretch in the world of Warriors hoops.

Preparing for the state meet

Philomath High seniors Carrson Hirte, Kellen Houchin, junior Henry Katsikis, sophomore Kyah Weeber and freshman Cameron McLennan are preparing this week for the Class 4A/3A/2A/1A State Championships in Beaverton.

Carrson Hirte at the beginning of the 100 backstroke. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Hirte qualified individually in the 100-yard backstroke and 200 individual medley. Weeber made it to state in the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM. The 200 medley relay of Hirte, Houchin, McLennan and Katsikis also qualified.

During an interview following the district meet last weekend in Albany, Hirte said he doesn’t do anything special in preparation for big meets. The routine leading up to the competition includes practice and tapering, going home to do homework and eating healthy while avoiding sugar, which he admitted “normally doesn’t happen … I just eat whatever’s in front of me.”

Added Hirte, “I just kinda chill out and do nothing. I don’t think about anything specifically either.”

The PHS senior typically avoids any deep analysis of how he might approach his events.

“I normally leave that to the day of the meet,” he said. “I think about how I’m going to swim my races and I don’t talk to anybody.”

Hirte, who holds the school record in the 100 backstroke, laughed that he does end up talking to teammates more if he’s had a lot of caffeine — which he said was actually the case at the district meet.

The state meet’s first session of preliminary races is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Friday with the second session scheduled for an 8:15 a.m. start on Saturday at the Tualatin Hills Aquatic Center.

Cheer squad 7th at Oregon City

The Philomath High cheer squad finished seventh in a 12-school field last weekend at the state championships in Oregon City. The Warriors competed this year in the Class 4A traditional category with an all-female roster (PHS competed last year in the all-class coed division).

PHS cheer (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Gladstone won the state title with a score of 102.40, followed by Sweet Home (92.30), The Dalles (92.10), Newport (89.80) and North Bend (82.00) in the top five trophy spots. Junction City (77.30) was sixth and Philomath seventh (74.20), followed by five other schools.

Broken down by judged categories, Philomath ranked seventh for building skills, sixth for tumbling/jumps and fifth for overall routine. Five penalty points knocked the team down from sixth to seventh.

Philomath High’s cheer team, coached by Kathy Kohler, includes senior Ashley Kohler, junior Marit Riese, sophomores Kaylie Kohler, Tatum Pope, Olivia Rice, Ava Webster and Zoe Ringwald, and freshman Josey Schreiber.

Coming up on Saturday, Philomath will participate in the Oregon Cheerleading Coaches Association Championships at Salem Pavilion at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

Brad Fuqua

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.