Madras girls basketball team full of familiar faces
It's more or less the same group from a year ago, but the Madras girls basketball team wants the upcoming season to be different.
For a program that annually expects a run at state and possibly more, last season's 4A play-in round loss at Cottage Grove was far from where the Lady Buffs hoped it would end.
Not one girl graduated from that Madras team, but now, Lynden Harry, Kaliyah Iverson, Alesha Freeman, Kiersten Anderson and Elise David, are all seniors. When practice started up in the middle of November, they talked over last season's premature ending, and have since moved on. They have one year left to leave a legacy in Madras, and aren't shy about stating their goals.
"League title ... A winning record going into league," Harry begins, "and get to the state championship."
Head coach Zach Lillebo says his seniors have 27 games remaining in their high school careers. That's true, if the Buffs were to play in the 4A State Championship.
Simply reaching the state tournament has been a reasonable goal for them in past seasons. But this year, with this class of seniors? They want more.
"I think we're all on the same page as far as our wants, and how we get there," Lillebo said. "It's through hard work, being a good teammate, being together and nothing distracting us — coaches as well as players."
In addition to their seniors, headlined by all-leaguers Harry and Iverson, the Buffs will have Jiana Smith-Francis, a second-team, all-league player, who wasted no time acclimating herself to varsity basketball as a freshman last season. Key rotation players Jackie Zamora and Annie Whipple also return. And yet with all the familiar faces still in the gym each day, the Buffs don't feel the same as they did a year ago.
"It's totally different," Harry said, pointing to intense practices that have shaped the first couple weeks. "Everybody wants it. They want the wins, they want the state championship (and) they want to get there."
How Madras fares this season starts with Harry, the Buffs' guard who led them in points, assists and rebounds as a junior. She is their clear go-to player, and others look up to her. Harry's next step, she said, is becoming a conductor on the court, directing traffic and communicating, to the benefit of her teammates.
"I want to make my team better, and I want to be the leader on the floor," Harry said. " I want to be that coach on the floor, like a point guard's supposed to be."
That isn't to say Harry has shied away from that responsibility in years past, though she acknowledges a tendency to be more reserved than vocal. Leaders come in various forms, though, and teammates understand, without question, that Harry is theirs.
"I'm not a very outspoken person," Harry said. "They all know that, but they know they can come to me with whatever questions they have."
It appears that players and coaches want to distance themselves from last year, if only because it wasn't as successful as they knew it could have been. What they can glean from last season, however, is how they learned to play together.
Aside from incoming freshman Jayden Davis, whose play has already earned the respect of her teammates in practice, everyone has played and practiced together in the system beyond the past few weeks. The Buffs hope that gives them an advantage, especially at the start, while other teams are still getting acquainted with new players.
"I think it is a benefit, because we all know how each other plays," Iverson said. "We've all been playing together for a while, so we know how to play. We're not starting off from the beginning."
Lillebo can't help but think about the five seniors on this year's team, a special group that he has overseen from the beginning to the end of their high school careers. Just as much as the girls want, he hopes to see them make their last year memorable, on and off the court.
"I think the big thing is, who do they want to be?" Lillebo said.
"Figure out who they want to be and how they want to be remembered in this program, as well as within our community," Lillebo said. "It's more than just basketball."
The Lady Buffs open their season at home Tuesday, Dec. 5, against Scappoose. They will host the Madras Invitational the following Friday and Saturday.