Kennedy wins the 2018 2A Girls Basketball State Championship
It's hard to imagine a more impressive storybook season for the Kennedy girls basketball program.
The Trojans entered the season with title aspirations and came out the other side with a nearly unblemished record, winning a school-record 29 games to finish with the team's second state championship in the past three seasons on Saturday.
"It feels just as sweet if not more, just because we had so many seniors and they wanted it so bad," said co-head coach Kerry Hall. "I think I was more emotional this time. I could not stop crying. The girls were crying. It was a pretty sweet moment. As a coach, it's just so amazing that you can send off six seniors with the title."
Kennedy (29-1, 12-0 Tri-River Conference) defeated the defending state champion Monroe Dragons (26-4, 12-0 Mountain View Conference) 53-40 in the final game of the 2018 2A State Championship at the Pendleton Convention Center.
The two teams have become intimately familiar with each other over the past four seasons, as both programs have risen to become state powers at the 2A level. No 2A team has amassed more wins in the past four seasons than the Dragons, with 106 victories in that span.
Their run has coincided with the best stretch of basketball in program history at Kennedy High School, and the two teams have combined to win the past three state titles. The Trojans' win on Saturday was the third against Monroe this season, and coaches Kerry and Peter Hall sought to counter the Dragons' fast-paced attack with a much more deliberate offense.
"They want to run, and I don't mind running a little bit, because it's entertaining. But I also don't want to lose the game," Peter Hall said. "So it's really important to have that balance and have the ability to pull it back for a halfcourt offense and grind it out."
Peter Hall said their plan was to look for an immediate shot on offense, and if it wasn't there, to work the ball around with upwards of 10 to 12 passes before finding an opportunity. The idea was to be patient with setting up the offense while simultaneously stopping the Dragons from developing any kind of momentum.
"We had the ball in our court for probably double the time as anybody," Peter Hall said.
On the other side of the ball, the Trojans simply tried to prevent the Dragons from getting any easy looks from the floor, even if it meant defending 26 feet from the basket to prevent Monroe's All-State guard Madison Ballard from lighting it up from 3-point range.
As a result, the Dragons shot just 15-of-49 from the floor and Ballard was held to 12 points and only two 3-pointers.
"We just challenged shots like crazy," Peter Hall said. "Monroe might have only got three wide open looks from behind the 3-point line."
Kennedy held a double-digit lead for much of the second quarter and into the third, but the Dragons went on a 15-4 run to cut Kennedy's lead to 36-33 late in the third quarter. The Trojans responded with seven straight points and went on a 15-3 run over the final eight minutes to walk out of the gymnasium with a double-digit victory.
The win was the culmination of two years of effort following Kennedy's 2016 title. Many of the bench players from that championship team were thrust into starting roles in 2017, and though the Trojans went 17-10 on the season, they still finished the year with a third-place trophy in Pendleton.
Without any seniors graduating from that team, this year's Kennedy team came prepared to make whatever sacrifices it took to bring the title back to Mount Angel.
"They worked so hard to go from role players to key players," Kerry Hall said. "We knew they could do it and gaining the confidence to do it. They finally did that this season."
Despite the more prominent roles, the Trojans never lost that role player mentality from seniors Kaylin Cantu, Molly Jaeger, Abby Frey, Kaylee Brown, Hannah Arritola and Hope Garcia. That trickled down to the underclassmen, and Kennedy succeeded this season by virtue of being a team with too many weapons and too much versatility for opponents to figure out.
At the end of the tournament, sophomore Sophia Carley was named to the All-Tournament First Team, and junior Kalyssa Kleinschmit was selected to the Second Team. Not one Kennedy senior was selected, an almost fitting end for a program whose success was predicated on sacrifice.
"You know, all of the girls on our team are so selfless," Kerry Hall said. "I've not heard one girl upset about someone getting an award. We are such a team. They're just happy for anyone."
"They're just so positive," Peter Hall added. "They say we can do it if we're all willing to work together."
And with the basketball season officially in the rearview mirror, the team is already setting its sights on the spring athletic season, where many of the players have been part of the softball team that has qualified for the state semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
"I'm excited for them in softball," said Peter Hall, who asked his team after winning the title how they're going to carry that over to the field. "They said, 'You can achieve your goals if you're willing to sacrifice for your teammate.' I couldn't have said it any better."