Girls basketball: Kennedy ends season with third-place finish at Pendleton
There are two ways for the Kennedy girls basketball team to look at their state tournament run.
On the one hand, the team came up short of its goal to defend its 2016 state title. On the other hand, its third-place finish on Saturday, cemented with a 39-30 victory over Imbler, extends the Trojans' best multi-year streak of play in the history of the program.
Co-head coach Pete Hall prefers the latter.
"We've had a chance to go to the championship game three years in a row now," Hall said. "We are in uncharted territory for our program."
From 2015 to 2017, the Trojans have finished the season in fifth place, first place and now third place. It's the first time the Kennedy girls program has made it to the state quarterfinal tournament in three consecutive years, an accomplishment that co-head coach Kerry Hall attributes to the thankless work behind the scenes during the off season by the parents and community members that have turned Mount Angel into a basketball destination.
"I think a lot of hard work and dedication (comes) from this whole community," Kerry Hall said. "A lot of people say good job to the girls and coaches, but it's a lot of parents driving to tournament ball on the weekends, volunteer coaches helping us out that's all starting to pay off. All the time and energy over the years."
Of course there was a twinge of regret on Friday night when the Trojans lost to league rival Western Mennonite by a 53-37 margin. It was the third loss to the Pioneers this season and kept Kennedy from making it to the championship game to defend its title.
"Sometimes you just don't win those games," Pete Hall said. "The kids played really hard, we just didn't win."
The Trojans played one of their best games of the season in the loss, turning the ball over just six times, but had no answer for the ultra-efficient game from Tri-River Conference Player of the Year Maddison Hull, who finished with a game-high 35 points on just 14 shots. Hull was 7-of-14 from the field and perfect on three 3-point attempts, and attempted more free throws than the entire Trojans team combined.
"There was a few tears in the locker room because of that prospect of almost being there," Pete Hall said, "I wasn't even the least bit disappointed. This team — there is no failure because there is no quit."
The feeling was short-lived and forgotten the next day when the team stomped the Imbler Panthers to secure a third-place finish.
Kennedy was up 15-7 after the first quarter and after Kaylin Cantu sunk a 3-pointer late in the second quarter to go up 26-17, the Trojans led by double digits for the remainder of the game. That allowed the Kennedy coaching staff to use its bench more in the second half, giving all 12 girls on the roster playing time in the final game of the season.
"All the girls had smiles at the end, they were loving it and just having a blast," Pete Hall said. "We were just so resilient."
The Trojans opened the tournament on Thursday, defeating the Grant Union Pioneers 44-33 to make it to their third consecutive state semifinal game. During Kennedy's historic three-year run, the team has been one of the best 2A programs in the state due to a combination of its tireless commitment on the floor and the positive atmosphere surrounding the program off the floor.
The Trojans had a difficult task this year of returning to the top of the basketball standings despite overhauling their offensive game due to the loss of their leading scorers last year. Kennedy's defense remained stalwart all season, but the offense was always a work in progress as kids were pressed into larger roles.
"The big takeaway is that we were competitive the whole season in every game," Pete Hall said. "The kids never stopped improving and took a lot of young talent, turned it into something good."
He pointed to junior guard Cantu, who earned First Team All-Tournament recognition, as an example of how far the team has come this year. Cantu took over the majority of the starting point guard duties, giving her the difficult role of being the team's primary on-ball defender while running the offense on the side.
"I challenged her like no other kid this year," Pete Hall said. "We put her at the point guard because we wanted to develop her overall game and she played absolutely fantastic."
Add in the growing abilities of all-conference players Molly Jaeger, Kalyssa Kleinschmit, Sophia Carley and Hannah Arritola, and the Trojans were able to turn kids who had been role players last year into conference stars this year.
And every single player will be back next year. While no seniors on the team this season created its share of difficulties, it will pay off next year when the team looks to return and make up for this year's semifinal loss.
"I think losing in that semis made our girls really hungry," Kerry Hall said. "Losing that game and coming the next day, that just comes from pure heart."