New look but same results.
A year after winning every girls basketball game including the state championship, the team at Joseph High School begins this winter with a very different roster. Five seniors - each an important contributor, including a pair of all-stars - graduated. However, many of the Lady Eagles coming back have gotten used to success and they know how to continue winning.
"We're really excited to see how this team gels," said Lance Homan, the state's Coach of the Year last season. "We have some girls who are new to varsity. This is a chance to watch them develop. It's gonna be fun to see them out there playing together." He will soon begin his fourth season at the helm. His teams have compiled a 78-9 record. Each year, they captured the district title. The last two years, they advanced to the state championship game.
Three starters are back for their senior years. For last season's superb squad (29-0 overall), Nicke Parks dominated the frontcourt. The Class 1A Oregon Coaches Association voted Joseph's 6-foot-3 center the state's Player of the Year. She earned All-State honors for the second consecutive season. Recently, she accepted a full scholarship to play at Weber State University in Utah. While opponents had to design the game plans around Parks, the Eagles enjoyed balance with Paige Bailey as a smart and talented point guard. Opponents focused on Parks, but if they ignored Bailey, she burned them with sharp long-distance shooting. She directed a fast-paced offense, especially dangerous racing up and down the court. Coaches also named Bailey to the All-State team. And Shelby Harshman moved up to a starting role last year and earned All-District honors.
Other spots on varsity are up for audition. Joseph will miss a pair of All-State forwards, Megan Yost and Colby Patton, who both graduated along with Lena Moro, Emily Staigle and Amber Shear. A few of the girls sticking around for this year have experience. Many games were decided quickly enough for Homan to play reserves like junior Anna Bird, junior Mariah Warnock and sophomore Jesse Kohlhepp. Homan described Bird as his team's "best pure shooter." Back surgery and rehabilitation sidelined her for much of last season, but she recovered in time for the latter half of the schedule. In a semifinal at the district tournament, she made two three-point jump shots. When Patton got into foul trouble during a state playoff, Bird relieved her off the bench and drilled a three-pointer. Warnock developed into a slick ball-handler. She made five assists against Ione High. And Kohlhepp was varsity's youngest contributor.
More girls will climb up from last year's junior varsity. Senior forward Olivia Williams joins Parks, Warnock and even Jesse, adding to the squad's deep frontcourt. Senior Christina Marks and junior Josey Kohlhepp are also ready for the long season. Over the summer, the girls stayed sharp with several games. Naturally, they won all but one.
"That's what's already fun about this season," Homan said. "We don't have a identity. We can't replace last year's seniors, so we're not trying to do that. Now, we have a chance to see how this year's girls play and how they're gonna fit."
Joseph begins the new basketball season Dec. 5 and 6, as the Lady Eagles travel to a tournament at Sherman High School.