St. Paul's Counts named 1A Co-Player of the Year
St. Paul senior Erin Counts added one more recognition to her basketball resume as she concluded her career with the Buckaroos — 1A State Player of the Year. The Bucks' guard was honored in a rare three-way tie for the state's top honors in April, along with rivals Sabriana Albee of Joseph and Kelsie Siegner of Crane.
"I've seen two people, but never a three-way split like that," said St. Paul girls basketball coach Dave Matlock. "I think it just shows the diversity of each of those athletes.
"Each one of those athletes brings a strong resume to the table in their ability to create and drive their team," he continued. "Every one of those kids does that for their team so well. There wasn't one who could stand out above the other."
The trio led their respective teams to three of the top four finishes in this year's state championship tournament. Counts and the Bucks fell to Siegner's Mustangs 45-41 in the 1A finals in March, while Albee guided the Eagles to a fifth-place finish at the quarterfinal tournament in Baker City.
Siegner, a sophomore, and Albee, a junior, led all teams in scoring at the three-game event at 18.3 points per game, while Counts was the tournament's fourth-leading scorer with a 13.7 average. That all three should finish tied for the top honor was a recognition by coaches of the impact they had on their teams, Matlock said.
"Each coach saw it was very even between those kids," he said. "There wasn't one who stood out."
The trio took up the first three spots on the 1A All-State First Team, followed by Counts' teammate Isabelle Wyss and Crane's Riley Davis. The Mustangs landed a third player on the list as well — Honorable Mention sophomore Dani Clark.
For Counts, who earned the Casco League's top honors in February, the state Player of the Year award is an affirmation of four years of developing from a raw, talented freshman post to one of the state's elite small school guards as a senior.
"She applied herself by probably spending the most time of any kid that I've had above and beyond the things we do in practice," Matlock said. "She really put in the hours, and this is what you get when you have the talent and that intense desire to be better."
Counts entered the St. Paul girls basketball program in the 2016-17 season, joining a Buckaroo team that was lacking in size — a problem that was exacerbated when then-freshman Wyss missed significant time with an ankle injury. Already one of the tallest players on the team at the time, Counts was asked to fill the void in the paint by Matlock.
"That probably helped her develop her moves around the basket," he said. "We ran a two-post offense and she did a really good job at that."
When Wyss returned from injury toward the end of the season, Matlock moved Counts to the perimeter and got a glimpse of St. Paul's tandem of the future.
"I just saw the shooting ability, the passing ability — I need to get this girl in the guard position," Matlock recalled. "I think that's when we became our best. Let Isabelle run the middle while Erin on the outside runs the offense."
That year's team finished 15-9 overall and 6-6 in an ultra-difficult 2A Tri-River Conference that boasted four top-10 teams. The Buckaroos missed the state playoffs that year, but returned for the 2017-18 season stronger with Counts and Wyss emerging as an elite sophomore duo.
"It was fun to coach, because sometimes you could get it simple in practice," Matlock said. "If you get the ball out to Erin, and if Isabelle just ran the lane wide or in the middle, Erin got her the ball. And a lot of times, Belle developed her ball handling skills enough that they could do that in reverse."
The Bucks went 24-6 that season, finishing behind the eventual state champion Kennedy Trojans in the Tri-River standings and went on to place third overall in the 2A state tournament.
Counts and Wyss took even more control of the program their junior season at the perfect time, with a full returning cast of teammates and a drop to the 1A classification — resulting in a perfect 30-0 season that culminated in the program's fifth state championship and first title since 2007.
The pair spearheaded an attack-first team that sought to outrun and outgun the opposition. Matlock likened the team's style to that of the Showtime Lakers of the '80s in the Bucks' ability to get up and down the court in a way that simply tired out opposing teams while providing an exciting style of play for St. Paul's fans.
"It's probably been some of the most fun ball I've coached," Matlock said. "We so often just ran teams to death. Erin was at the forefront of that. She really drove that and was the captain of that for the last three years."
Counts' game continued to mature as a senior, where she led the Buckaroos in nearly every significant statistical category, tallying averages of 17 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.1 blocks heading into the state playoffs. She shot 54% from the field and 34% from the perimeter, making her a rare efficient scorer from the guard position. Those numbers helped spell out her case for Player of the Year honors against Siegner and Albee, whom Matlock had firsthand experience planning against over the past two seasons.
Albee and the Eagles traveled to St. Paul during the 2018-19 season, giving the Bucks a firsthand showcase of her abilities as an elite playmaker in her own right.
"Getting to play Sabriana last year — she is just incredibly hard to control, she stands out," Matlock said.
But it's Siegner who is likely to be the future of the 1A classification for the next two years, said Matlock, who noted that she is able to do now what Counts took four years to build to.
"Siegner is just really an amazing kid for her age. She's going to be tremendously tough these next few years," Matlock said. "She's one of those rare kids that could be a Division 1 ball player. I really think she's going to be one to watch in the future."
The fact that Counts, who recently committed to play at Chemeketa Community College next season, held her own against Siegner is proof enough to Matlock and the other 1A coaches in the state that she was deserving of sharing the honor.
"I couldn't think of a more deserving kid because of what she's applied," Matlock said. "It's just a really warm feeling to be able to know that other coaches saw what I saw. She's going to be hugely missed. She's a tremendous leader. You just don't get ones like that very often."
2020 1A GIRLS BASKETBALL ALL-STATE AWARDS
Co-Players of the Year
Erin Counts, Sr., St. Paul
Kelsie Siegner, So., Crane
Sabriana Albee, Jr., Joseph
Coach of the Year
Stub Travis, Crane
Erin Counts, Sr., St. Paul
Isabelle Wyss, Sr., St. Paul
Kelsie Siegner, So., Crane
Riley Davis, Jr., Crane
Sabriana Albee, Jr. Joseph
Sydney Lawrence, Sr., Perrydale
Lizzy Grandle, So. Country Christian
Peyton Robinson, Sr., Mohawk
Moriah Michaels, Sr., Days Creek
Emily Powers, So., Damascus Christian
Faith McCarty, So., Echo
Shelie Doman, Jr., Crane
Kenzie Lawrence, Sr., Perrydale
Nicki Derrick, Sr., North Douglas
Belle Blair, Jr., Powder Valley
Mia Milasonovic, Sr., Paisley
Rachel Hass, Jr., Southwest Christian
Dani Clark, So, Crane
Kiana Quintero, Jr., Jordan ValleyKyndle Gormley, Jr., Mohawk
Kieryn Carnes, Sr., Elkton
Elli Kent, So., Trinity Lutheran
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