Welcome to high school
Just a few minutes into a Jan. 30 girls basketball game, the Madras freshman team is already hounding its opponent, the Crook County Cowgirls.
The Lady Buffs' defensive pressure is constant, unrelenting and rarely allows the Cowgirls to advance the ball past half-court, let alone get a quality shot up.
Steals, offensive rebounds and other hustle plays, meanwhile, are leading to easy Madras baskets. Lots of them.
By the time Crook County scores its first points, the second quarter has just begun and Madras is leading 23-0.
Moments like these have become commonplace for the Lady Buffs' freshman squad of 12 players, who have only one loss through 17 games. The team is made up of Naomi DeAnda, Harlee David, Hannah Holliday, Alexis Heckathorn, Christina Ruiz, Madison Pattenaude, Taya Holliday, Natalia Tewee, Kathryce Danzuka, Chloe Maxwell, Josephine Badoni and DaRia White.
First-year head coach T.J. Foltz has seen all of them grow in one form or another. Yet on a night when the final score read 57-25 in favor of Madras, Foltz still had things he wanted to correct after the game, and his team heard about it.
"I would rather lose games and learn lessons, than blow people out and make the same mistakes over and over again," Foltz said. "To me, that's what we're doing … and mistakes that are easily fixable."
It might seem like Foltz is being hard on his players, but he believes the lessons they learn now will make the girls mentally tougher as they progress to JV and varsity.
"I told them at the beginning of the season, 'If you can handle me, everyone else is a breeze,'" Foltz said. "I like things structured; I like them (orderly) … We step in the gym, we go for an hour and a half. That's what we do. We'll goof around and have fun, but when it's time to go, it's time to go."
Foltz's prior high school coaching experience all came at the JV or varsity level, and before the 2016-17 season, when he assisted the varsity girls' program, he had only coached boys.
Naturally, he needed time at the beginning of the current season to adjust to coaching girls. But his demanding style has mostly stayed intact.
"He really pushes us," Danzuka said.
"He pushes us to the limits," Badoni added.
Admittedly, players needed some time to adjust to the rigors of high school basketball. And not just on the court. Some of the girls played basketball at Warm Springs K-8 Academy, while others went to Jefferson County Middle School. They were used to facing off against each other, and now, were tasked with learning how to coexist as teammates.
In order for them to connect, they needed to spend time together away from practices and games.
Once every week, the team is required to sit together during lunch, and send Foltz a picture documenting it, though Badoni proudly states that they get together twice per week. During Christmastime, they did a white elephant gift exchange at Hannah Holliday's house. Occasionally the whole team will go to Dairy Queen or catch a movie at Madras Cinema together. Most recently, Foltz beaded necklaces for each girl on the team with her initials.
"Just to get that team bonding," Foltz explained. "A lot of teams lose that as the season goes on, because it's so long."
While many of them possess a high IQ for the game, the Buffs' ability to work together has made a difference during the season.
Several teams Madras has played against are JV2, meaning their rosters are made up of freshmen and sophomores. Nearly every victory they've recorded hasn't been close. One game was an exception, however.
Madras went on the road to face the Bend freshman girls team on Jan. 10, and unlike other teams Madras faced, Bend had the personnel to match.
Danzuka, who finished with a team-high 14 points, carried the team in the first half, Foltz said. But she fouled out with two minutes remaining.
Badoni hit a go-ahead free throw to put Madras up by one, then Bend made a shot of its own.
Madras took possession with 15 seconds left and ran a play called "horns" — a double-high pick to free up Tewee, the Buffs' lefty point guard. Once she received the ball, Tewee stepped around a Bend defender and floated in a shot with eight seconds left. After Madras called timeout, Bend got a shot off before the buzzer, but it missed.
Although the Buffs remain undefeated, players agree that the season has been a challenge, with ups and downs. That has been by design, of course. With four players graduating from the varsity team this season, there are guaranteed to be open roster spots.
Foltz told the girls at the beginning of the season, if they can handle the pressure that comes with varsity now, they can simply focus on improving their skills in the years to come. Every one of those tough practices has a purpose.
"I want 12 leaders that are going to lead this basketball team, not only now, but into the future," he said.