Kennedy girls run away from Monroe in 2A State Championship
The journey to Kennedy's 48-26 win over Monroe in the 2020 2A Girls Basketball State Championship game Saturday began two years ago when the Trojans and Dragons met for the 2018 title.
While then-sophomore Sophia Carley helped lead the charge to a double-digit victory, marking the program's second state championship in three years, a trio of first-year students cheered from the bench, soaking in every moment from the sidelines at the Pendleton Convention Center.
Hailey Arritola, Ellie Cantu and Elise Suing logged a total of 27 minutes combined in the first two quarterfinal games that year but didn't see any playing time in the finals.
As the Trojans' six seniors made their mark on the program that year, all three players knew it would be up to them to carry the tradition of excellence into the seasons to come and work to earn a championship of their own.
"We were part of the team, but didn't get in a lot," Arritola said following the conclusion of the 2020 title game. "This one is for sure ours."
Since that 2018 championship, the Kennedy Trojans have gone on to win state championships in softball (2018), volleyball (2019), and now another basketball title.
"All of them, we all are beyond blessed to be a part of," said Carley, who led the Trojans with 23 points and 10 rebounds in the rematch victory over Monroe. The senior post imposed her will on the state tournament this year, averaging 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, 0.7 steals, and one assist while shooting 56.1% from the field to earn a unanimous selection to the All-Tournament First Team.
She was joined Cantu as a First Team selection, while Arritola was named to the Second Team.
"It's just so surreal," said Cantu, who averaged 13 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 80 percent from the free-throw line throughout the tournament. "I can't even process it. It just feels amazing. I'm so proud of everyone. We worked really hard."
The Trojans' victory over the Dragons on Saturday was almost anti-climactic, if not for the boisterous celebration at the conclusion that was just as full of tears, hugs, high fives and laughter.
Monroe opened the game by taking a 2-point lead on their first possession. After that, the next 31 minutes belonged to the Trojans, who ripped off a 17-2 run over the next seven minutes to take a double-digit lead into the second quarter that the team never relinquished.
Kennedy extended its lead to 22-4 early in the second quarter before Monroe's Tyler Warden hit consecutive 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 12 points. But that's as close as it would get for the Dragons. The Trojans went into the half up 29-15 and built a 20-point lead by the final minutes of the third quarter where the game would stay.
"We worked our butts off to get here. Monroe worked their butt off to be here," Carley said. "They deserved it. All the teams worked really hard."
Of the three victories throughout the quarterfinals, it was the team's opening game on Thursday that proved to be the most challenging. Facing a Coquille team that beat the Trojans in the overtime of last year's semifinals, Kennedy got down 9-2 early, and led just 32-30 going into the final quarter before pulling out a 50-36 victory.
"I think the Coquille game from last year fueled us in the first round at Pendleton," Arritola said. "I feel like we had the harder side of the bracket, so it was an even better feeling to win because we really did beat the best of the best."
"We had a week to prepare for Coquille," Carley said. "We knew they were going to be really tough and they're a great team; they have some great girls on their team. We were really thankful that we had a week to prepare for them."
The close game against a Coquille team that went on to win its next two and finish fourth in the tournament bracket gave the Kennedy girls a laser-like focus on the semifinals when they faced a Bandon team that had beaten Gervais the day before and had lost just once entering the tournament.
"I think having a hard bracket motivated us to want to work harder to prepare for it," Cantu said. "We were really focused on the task at hand and it made us want to work even harder."
The Tigers never knew what hit them.
Arritola, Suing, along with teammates Reese Hall, Grace Schaecher and Catherine Butsch combined for 10 steals. At the same time, Carley tallied five blocks, holding Bandon to its lowest total of the season in a 51-33 victory.
"We really worked on defense that game," Carley said. "Our guards did amazing. Their defense was phenomenal."
"We played out of our minds," said Arritola. "I don't think I've ever seen our team play like that. We really used that as our stepping stone to show we have even more to give."
Bandon went on to their third-place game over 2-seed Union, lending further credibility to the top half of the bracket that accounted for seven victories and three of the top four placements at the state tournament.
The big victory only further galvanized the Trojans heading into Saturday's championship game, concluding the latest chapter in an era of JFK girls athletics that is unrivaled in school history.
"This is where we hoped and wished to be, and it came true," Carley said. "My teammates are incredible and without them, I would not be here."
"It feels amazing because I feel me, Hailey and Elise have been working so hard the past two years to get to this point," Cantu added. "We helped build the team up to this point to finally finish it.
"It's so surreal," she repeated. "I'm just so proud of everyone."
2020 2A GIRLS BASKETBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
March 5-7 at Pendleton
Kennedy 48, Monroe 26
Kennedy 51, Bandon 33
Kennedy 50, Coquille 36
KENNEDY ALL-TOURNAMENT HONORS
Sophia Carley, 12, First Team
Ellie Cantu, 11, First Team
Hailey Arritola, 11, Second Team
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