Kennedy's four-year warrior
In an alternate timeline where the COVID-19 pandemic was simply the fevered dream of a bored science fiction writer, student athletes across the state would be entering the latter half of May working diligently to balance the rigors of athletic competition with the demands of the classroom.
After placing eighth in the 800-meter run at the state track and field championships two years ago, Kennedy's Luke Hall was looking forward to one last opportunity to return to the podium. Instead, like so many others, his senior season was cut short — the last competitive outlet of his high school career coming in the 2A state basketball playoffs in February.
"It's definitely a pretty big blow," Hall said. "It's a big bond for me and my grandma Diane. She's really passionate about running sports. She's that running element (in the family) and she's always pushed me to do it."
A three-sport athlete, Hall has juggled running and basketball the past three and a half years, sandwiching the former between cross country in the fall and track and field in the spring.
While basketball has long been his primary focus, Hall is an accomplished distance runner, qualifying for the state cross country championships from 2017 to 2019.
That made it particularly hard to give up the sport this past fall in order to put more time into basketball.
"That was a tough decision," Hall said. "I like everyone on the team, but the sport just started fading for me as my love of basketball grew more and more.
"I saw if I wanted to be a better basketball player, I had to do it in the offseason. Not during the summer, but before basketball season in the fall."
The commitment paid off. Hall emerged as one of the top 2A shooting guards in the state, garnering First Team All-Conference honors and being named to the All-State Third Team.
Hall has stayed in shape from home these past two months and plans to pursue a walk-on position on the Oregon Institute of Technology's men's basketball team, the Hustlin' Owls. Without a scholarship secured, Hall is betting on his skill, work ethic and the Owls' titular hustle — a gamble that paid off four years earlier when he was one of only two freshmen to make the varsity cut on the Trojans in 2016.
FRESHMAN YEAR (2016-17)
Kennedy: 12-13 (8-4 Tri-River Conference)
Heading into his first year of high school athletics, Hall was already familiar with varsity coach Karl Schmidtman, a middle school teacher at the time.
"I kind of had an in with him," Hall said. "I saw him every day and he knew me. He knew I liked basketball and knew I was pretty good."
Hall played under Schmidtman in summer league and earned a spot on the varsity team, but rarely saw time on the court. He tallied 17 points total in 13 games and ended up asking Schmidtman for more JV minutes.
"I would rather play four quarters of JV and maybe one quarter of varsity than two quarters of JV and still not play any varsity," Hall said. "I played mostly JV that year for me. It was a lot of fun. We had a really good JV team."
Much of his training came in between games, going up against bruising teammates like Nick Suing, Jeremy Kliewer and Jack Suing — talented athletes who were coming off a state semifinal appearance for the football team in the fall.
"I had a great experience in practice. Most of the time I got bodied by the seniors," Hall said. "Those dudes were scary. I did not want to shoot any layups on them. I was like, 'I'm going to get crushed.'"
SOPHOMORE YEAR (2017-18)
Kennedy: 18-14 (7-5 Tri-River Conference) — 4th place, state quarterfinals
Hall: 9.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 47% on 2-pointers, 49% on 3-pointers, 84% on free throws.
The Trojans had graduated the bulk of its scoring in the spring, leaving the door open for upcoming players to take on some of the offensive load. The return of junior post Rocco Carley, who had transferred to Silverton for a year, and the emergence of sophomore forward Emorej Lynk gave Kennedy a pair of large, athletic go-to scorers. Returning varsity wings Carson Hall and Mason Boen provided inside-outside games
With Hall earning a starting role as an outside threat, knocking down nearly half his 3-pointers, Kennedy had assembled one of its most balanced teams in years.
"I think I just helped contribute any way I could," Hall said. "I wasn't the main threat or anything. Defensively, teams would leave me open a lot. Every once in a while I'd drop a 20-point game, but it wasn't every night."
It was a fun atmosphere for Hall, who had a unique playing relationship with teammates Carson Hall and Boen, who are both family members. Boen is a cousin to both, while Carson is the much-younger brother of Hall's dad.
"Everyone called him 'Uncle Carson,'" Hall said. "It was me, Carson and Mason. I just loved hanging out with those guys."
After weathering a rough league schedule, the Trojans qualified for a state playoff berth at Pilot Rock, the league champion out of the Columbia Basin Conference. But following a brutal slate of Tri-River opponents, Hall knew the home team was ripe for an upset.
"We saw that we got Pilot Rock and knew instantly that we were going to win that game," Hall said. "It adds a boost of confidence when you see their league is not very tough. It's not every day you get to knock off a No. 7 seed."
Kennedy down the Pilots 52-36, earning a trip to the state quarterfinals in Pendleton. The Trojans fell in their first game to eventual champion Columbia Christian but rallied in the consolation semifinals to beat 3-seed Knappa 55-50, led by 15 points from Hall. Kennedy followed the next day with a 54-45 win over 8-seed Grant Union to finish the season with a fourth-place trophy.
JUNIOR YEAR (2018-19)
Kennedy: 22-8 (13-3 Tri-River) — 4th place, state quarterfinals
Hall: 11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 52% 2-pointers, 21% 3-pointers, 83% free throws.
The Trojans' 2018-19 season was altered before its first practice when Lynk tore his ACL two weeks before the start of the regular season. With the team's expected leading scorer sidelined for the season, Kennedy looked poised to take a step back from the team's fourth-place finish the year before. If anything, that fueled Hall to prove what the Trojans could do in Lynk's absence.
"It really annoyed me when people kept talking that we need Emorej," Hall said. "I'm like, 'Guys, instead of whining about it, let's just take our fate into our own hands and prove ourselves instead of having to rely on this person who won't be here this year.'
"He's a really good player, he's going to help us a ton, but whatever we can't control, I'm not going to worry about it."
The Trojans burst out of the gate, winning eight of their first 10 contests to go into the new year with an 8-2 record. Much like the year before, Kennedy relied on its depth of talent, with guards Brandon Salazar, Angel Dela Rosa and Bruce Beyer joining Hall, Carley and Carson Hall in the rotation.
Kennedy ended the regular season on a seven-game win streak, but a loss to Santiam in the league playoffs put the Trojans on the road in the state playoffs once again.
Holding onto a single-digit lead at halftime over the Blue Mountain Conference champion Heppner Mustangs, Hall remembers Schmidtman pulling him aside while the rest of the team was warming up for the second half.
"He comes up to me and he's like, 'Luke you have to shoot more or we will not win this game,'" Hall said. "That kind of struck me weird, because he never does that.
"I was really unsure of myself that year. Unsure of what my role was and how many shots I should take. When he said that, I was like, 'Ok I'm doing it.'"
Hall poured in 20 points in the second half and the Trojans cruised to 56-38 victory to return to the quarterfinals. Like the year prior, Kennedy rallied from a tournament-opening loss to Columbia Christian, to advance to the fourth-place game. Only this time the Trojans were facing league rival Santiam in a rematch.
"We played them so many times," Hall said. "It's definitely a rivalry game, especially for a fourth place trophy at state."
The Trojans were excited to end their season against a familiar opponent, eager to bring home another fourth-place trophy. But things took a turn after the opening tip off.
"We had zero points," Hall said. "We literally missed every single shot."
Trailing 8-0 after the opening quarter, Kennedy turned things around in the second period and outscored the Wolverines 15-6 to go into halftime with a one-point lead. Kennedy's defense continued to stifle Santiam and the Trojans gradually pulled away in the second half for a 39-28 win and another fourth-place trophy.
SENIOR YEAR (2019-20)
Kennedy: 18-9 (13-3 Tri-River Conference)
Hall: 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 59% 2-pointers, 41% 3-pointers, 76% free throws.
Entering his senior year, Hall knew all eyes would be on him for the 2019-20 season. As a four-year player on the Trojans, opposing teams were intimately aware of his style, skill and abilities. He needed to throw something new at them.
"Physique wise, I was trying to improve on getting stronger," he said. "I improved my ball handling a lot in the fall and my confidence increased so much. Just the gym time itself was super key to getting better."
Giving up cross country was a difficult decision, but it ultimately paid off.
"Playing with other guys who are motivated in the gym pushes you continuously to get better," Hall said. "I went into the winter season so well prepared."
The first game of the season, Hall poured in a career-high 29 points in a 69-57 win over Clatskanie. A month later he droped a new career-high 39 in a 63-55 loss to eventual 3A quarterfinalist Amity. Holding a relatively slight frame, Hall isn't an imposing player on the court, a fact that he relishes when opposing players underestimate him.
"I love that feeling of being the underdog," Hall said. "I'm not super short, but I'm not big either. They don't expect me to just pull up in their face and make these shots."
Following the loss to Amity, Kennedy went on a tear, winning 11 of 12 games heading into the league playoffs.
But once again, Santiam was there to play spoiler in the league playoffs, beating the Trojans 63-56 to put Kennedy on the path to yet another state playoff game on the road. Traveling to fifth-ranked Oakland, Kennedy's bus was having trouble making the journey and the team pulled over at a rest stop to prevent a road-side breakdown.
"There were parents behind us, so we confiscated Brady Traeger's dad's car," Hall said. "We took the starters and Isaiah (Basargin) up there in the car. Everyone else stayed behind on the bus and waited for more parents to show up and shuttle us to the game."
The reserves ended up getting to Oakland in plenty of time. The Oakers boasted an impressive 24-3 record, a far cry from the weaker league champions that Kennedy had knocked off in previous years.
"A couple years ago, I was really nervous my first few games into the playoffs," Hall said. "That game, I had almost no nerves. Especially right after the tip. All the nerves go right out and I was ready to play."
But the stars were not aligned for the Trojans, and the team went on to lose 67-45 to finish the season.
"I really felt like if we played them again, we'd beat them," Hall said.
With spring events and activities canceled and summer in question, Hall is feeling relatively at peace with how his high school career is coming to a close. While he misses the day-to-day familiar faces at school, he's more concerned about the memories his family is missing out on.
"Especially for graduation, because your whole family is there," Hall said. "It's this big get-together. I would have family members coming from bordering states to see me. My grandpa's sister — she comes up every graduation. I'll definitely miss some of that stuff."
But for now, his focus is on his coming freshman year of college in Klamath Falls and earning a spot on the Hustlin' Owls. And if the OIT track and field team needs a talented 800-meter runner, maybe he'll swing by its facilities next spring, if only for his grandma Diane.
"I think my grandma would freak out," Hall said. "It would be really funny to see that. She's crazy about track."
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