Girls basketball: Trojans show no sign of slowing down
Take a look at the Kennedy girls basketball team and you'll see all the makings of a great basketball team. The Trojans went 3-0 last week, increasing their current streak of victories to 15 straight games to become the first Oregon team in any classification to win 20 games this season.
Kennedy (20-1, 8-0 Tri-River Conference) is the No. 1 2A team in the state, has scored more points than any other team in 2A and has a relentless defense that wreaks havoc on opposing teams.
But sometimes the Trojans look more like a champion prizefighter, wearing out opponents over the course of a boxing match before delivering the knockout blow in the final rounds.
Such was the case for Kennedy last week when it hosted the No. 5 St. Paul Buckaroos (16-4, 6-2) on Jan. 22. It was a game between two juggernauts, each of whom entered the contest with a long string of wins under their belts.
And for the first two and a half quarters, it looked as if St. Paul had Kennedy on the ropes. The Bucks held Kennedy to just two points in the first quarter and led throughout the entire first half. But the Trojans came roaring back in the second half, outscoring the Buckaroos 40-16 to comfortably win by a 54-34 margin.
"They played as hard as they could," Kennedy co-head coach Peter Hall said to St. Paul coach Dave Matlock after the game. "They did everything right. He should be very proud of that."
And yet they still lost by 20 points.
Such is the strength of the Kennedy program that even when teams are winning individual quarters over the Trojans, the Kennedy girls are playing the long game, looking to apply as much physical and mental fatigue over the course of the game by challenging not just every play, but every dribble and every footstep.
"We were just generally trying to do a lot of ball pressure and mentally wear people out," Hall said. "I think of the cumulative effect over the course of the game of just having someone constantly shadowing you."
There are very few easy possessions against Kennedy. The team pressures every pass, constantly jabbing and poking at opponents over the course of 32 minutes. If anyone on the team starts to tire or get into foul trouble, the team has another starting-caliber athlete ready to come off the bench and continue that pressure.
"We pride ourselves in playing as many kids as we can every night, and it's starting to show," Hall said.
Much like a boxing match, those jabs and body blows start to take their toll later in the match and that's when Kennedy is ready to deliver its Sunday punch.
"I think we did that to St. Paul," Hall said. "We just kind of slowly started wearing them out, and then they weren't making passes as accurate any more, and we were there to pick up those steals."
St. Paul had fewer than five turnovers in the first half against Kennedy, but the Trojans' relentless defense finally paid off in the second half. Down 22-16 midway through the third quarter, Kennedy started picking off passes and creating loose balls. The Trojans went on an 11-0 run to take the lead and then never looked back, causing the Bucks to cough up the ball 14 times in the final 12 minutes of play.
"That's something we're working on very hard in the fourth quarter," Hall said. "The first quarter may not be as productive offensively as you want, but you're doing the right stuff on defense and you're wearing these team out."
The effect creates a relentless fight that opposing teams have been unable to figure out this season. Kennedy's one loss came against the Dayton Pirates, the second-ranked 3A team in the state that has been to the last three state championship games.
The Trojans have four players averaging more than 10 points a game and two more nearly hitting double digits. Kennedy doesn't have that one transcendently dominant player such as Maddie Hull from last year's state finalist Western Mennonite team or Catherine Clemens of the two-time state finalist Burns team that the Trojans beat in 2016 for the program's first state title.
Kennedy can't be beaten by taking away any one player. That's how they dominate teams, and that's how Hall is hoping to bring the championship back to Mount Angel in March.
"That's been our motto for years — dominate," Hall said. "Be smart, don't have turnovers, control the ball. If you try to dominate all those other categories, you will be dominant.
"All the kids get along, and the result is a dominating performance," Hall continued. "They show up, they work together and the result is beautiful."