Girls basketball: No. 1 Trojans make fourth straight trip to quarterfinals
It took 26 wins to get this far; now the Kennedy girls basketball team needs just three more.
The No. 1 Trojans handled the visiting Vernonia Loggers 53-17 on Friday to return to the 2A State Quarterfinals, putting the team ever closer to the program's ultimate goal of a second state championship.
The first round victory over the Loggers (13-10, 11-3 Northwest League) was practically a formality after the Trojans (26-1, 12-0 Tri-River Conference) raced out to a 23-8 halftime lead.
Kennedy had beaten Vernonia by 46 earlier in the season and was confident enough to put the reserves in for much of the second half, giving the team's bench plenty of opportunity to run the show in an elimination game.
"We work on that in practice a lot," co-head coach Peter Hall said. "We try a lot of combinations in practice for scrimmaging for different scenarios and see how we play when there is adversity."
Kennedy's goal is not simply to finish an amazing year on top, but to build a dynasty.
It's a goal that Kerry and Peter Hall began 10 years ago when they took over coaching and has flourished over the past half decade as the Trojans have become one of the premier 2A girls basketball programs in the state.
In order to build that dynasty, today's reserves need to be capable of being tomorrow's stars.
It's the route that has produced much of this season's success. After all, members of this year's team — Abby Frey, Clarissa Traeger, Kaylin Cantu, Molly Jaeger, Hannah Arritola and Kaylee Brown — were on the 2016 team that won the state title.
Most of them served in reserve roles, but received significant minutes in high pressure scenarios under the Halls, preparing them for the future in which they were the ones playing starting roles with championship aspirations.
"If you just practice the starters every time, sure the starters have continuity," Hall said. "But if you don't practice some weird scenarios, you just don't know. You want to be prepared."
As such, it was Traeger leading much of the offense in the second half alongside freshman Ellie Cantu and sophomore Ibeth Gomez.
The trio combined to score 18 points, as eight members of the Trojans tallied at least one field goal or free throw in the victory.
Starters Kaylin Cantu and Sophia Carley led the team with 11 and nine points, respectively.
Ultimately, the Halls are looking to build a culture of success that is predicated on sacrifice.
The Trojans have succeeded this season not due to the individual play of one spectacular athlete, but by virtue of all 13 players working together to make the extra pass or sacrifice playing time for a teammate.
"It's execution and effort," Hall said. "Be it 30 seconds or three minutes, everybody is there to play, and that means playing a role. Support the team on the court all the time."
The Trojans open the state quarterfinal tournament against No. 8 Heppner (16-6, 5-3 Columbia Basin Conference) on Thursday, and if all goes according to plan, then they'll be playing in the semifinal on Friday and the championship game on Saturday.
But sports rarely go exactly according to plan, and the Halls have spent years trying to prepare their players to be ready for the unexpected, be it foul trouble, injury or something else that forces them out of their comfort zone.
"Don't just teach them plays, teach them how to play," Hall said. "If you teach them how to play, spread the court, read and react, we don't have to focus on the play as much as how to do your job."