Awards and recognition are not the reason why Jerin Say coaches basketball, but he isn't turning them down.
After guiding the Madras High School girls basketball team to a second-consecutive Tri-Valley Conference title and a third-place finish at the state playoffs, Say was recently named the OSAA 4A Coach of the Year in a list released by OregonLive/The Oregonian and SBLive. Following the season, Say was also named the Tri-Valley Coach of the Year for the second time in a row.
In addition to Say's award, sophomore point guard Rylan Davis was given honorable mention on The Oregonian /SBLive list, and she was also named to the All-Class 4A second team in a list released by the Oregon Basketball Coaches Association.
For Say, a Madras High School graduate himself, the honor is more about lifting up his hometown than it is about lifting up himself.
"I've always felt like our team, collectively, has not gotten the publicity that they deserve," Say explained, noting that the bigger schools in the western half of the state often get more statewide recognition than those on the east side of the Cascades. "We get overshadowed by teams on that side sometimes."
That shadow is quickly turning into a spotlight for the Madras girls basketball program, though.
"From last year to this year, things are really just growing in this program," Say continued. "A lot of recognition for the players, me as a coach, our team collectively as a whole. Going to state this year really opened the eyes of everybody across the state."
In terms of player recognition, Davis pulled in the biggest haul of awards, also making the all-tournament second team and the All-Tri Valley first team.
Following in Say's humble reception of the postseason awards, Davis was somewhat bashful as she discussed what making a pair of all-state lists means to her.
"It feels good," said Davis, though that feeling did not hit her immediately. "At first, I didn't really know what it meant. After I got some more insight, I was kind of shocked — and proud of myself, too."
Fellow sophomore Sasha Esquiro was first team all-tournament and second team all-conference, while seniors ChaCha Ramirez was second team all-league and Lilly Libokmeto was an honorable mention.
Madras did not just make a good impression with their skills on the court, either. The White Buffalos were presented the OSAA's Sportsmanship Award at the state playoffs for their demeanor on the court with both opponents and officials.
For Say, that honor is just as important as any individual awards that the team collected this year.
"To me, that's huge," emphasized the Madras coach, who just wrapped up his fourth season at the helm of the program. "It's a sign that we're on the map, that people see us and notice us and think highly of what we are doing right now."
"It was very exciting, and joyful in a way," added Davis about her sophomore season, which culminated in the team bringing home a third-place trophy from the state championships in Coos Bay. "All the accomplishments our team had, it made the season very fun for us."
The fun was apparent to anyone who watched team this season, as the White Buffalo squad was almost always all smiles, whether in victory or defeat.
"As a coach, you've just got to keep the positivity flowing within the team," added Say. "Keep telling them to believe; believe in what we're doing, believe in your teammates. That's what it comes down to — it's all going to work out in the end as long as we keep moving forward in positivity."
"Those girls, they never wavered from that belief in themselves," the coach went on to say. "It was just about, 'what is going to take to get where we want to be?'"
While the program is looking mighty healthy with plenty of returning talent coming back next season, yet another mark of its strength can be seen via the team's departing seniors.
All four of the seniors from this year's team, including Libokmeto, Ramirez, Shantelle Henry and Kalise Holliday, have signed or will be signing letters of intent to play college basketball. That is in addition to three more players from last season that the program sent off to play college ball, meaning that this is not just a team that wins — it is one that helps athletes forge a brand new life path.
"Seeing these girls go to college — we had three last year, and we'll have four this year — I just feel like that's unheard for a small school like us," Say continued. "These girls really have to work hard. As a coach, I've got to network for them, because nobody's coming to Madras to recruit anybody. It's getting that word out and getting those girls the recognition that they deserve."
Be it via postseason awards or college scholarships, the Madras girls basketball program is finally getting that recognition.
(Editor's note: Our print version of this story incorrectly notes Ramirez as an all-league honorable mention; however, the senior made the All-TVC second team. We have updated the online version of the story accordingly, and we regret the error.)
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