Tigers roll into State despite roster overhaul

Kendrick players let out yells as they are announced the Class 1A Division II girls’ basketball champions Thursday in Kendrick. Kendrick defeated Deary in the title game 49-28.

Kendrick’s Ron Ireland recalls how the Tigers’ last two state championship teams, in 1997 and 2002, were spearheaded by loaded senior classes.

The eighth-year coach, a longtime basketball figure in the town who worked as an assistant with those groups, has made his present-day outfit aware of that fact.

It might be seen as a tool of encouragement, motivating the Tigers’ players to accomplish something that’s not only rare in Kendrick, but likely throughout the high school hoops world: vying for a state crown without a single senior.

“We’re all juniors this year, so that’d be awesome,” Ireland said. “Especially if it’s a great experience down here, I’ll just feel great about this team. If the girls come to play, we should be good.”

Kendrick (18-5), the No. 4-ranked team in the final Class 1A Division II state media poll, opens the tournament against Richfield (12-12) at 6 p.m. Pacific today at Nampa High School.

The Tigers have reached State each of the past three seasons, but their roster this year was in need of an overhaul after five seniors graduated.

“None of these girls were in starting positions last year, so we were trying to find ourselves,” said Ireland of the season’s early stages. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tigers lost out on conducting their standard summer sessions that would have been crucial in their development.

“Hopefully, we’re peaking at the right time. They’ve been playing well together. I started working with the five seniors that graduated when they were in sixth grade. These girls were right there on their tails.”

Stepping up immediately were juniors like star forward Erin Morgan, and guards Drew Stacy and Hannah Tweit. Sophomore Rose Stewart has emerged as another weapon for the Tigers, whose roster includes six freshmen — a couple of whom play significant roles.

“Drew, Hannah, Erin, Rose, we’re pretty confident on the court with those girls,” Ireland said. “And (freshman) Hailey Taylor has been solid all year at guard.”

Morgan is one of the classification’s most touted players, averaging about 14 points and seven rebounds per game. Stacy’s “nose-for-the-ball” style reminds Ireland of NBA legend Dennis Rodman.

Stewart, along with multiple others, can contribute double-digit scoring outputs on any given night in Kendrick’s fast-paced, “Gonzaga style” offense, which features open-court ball-sharing and often leads to the Tigers finishing underneath with Morgan. Kendrick has a tendency to settle in after halftime, and score 20-plus points apiece in the third and fourth quarters.

“When we get our transition going, we get loose,” Ireland said, later adding: “I can sub three off the bench and we lose nothing. It’s quite a gift.”

Each of Kendrick’s losses have come to foes from higher classifications — three thanks to Grangeville and Prairie, state qualifiers at the 2A and 1ADI levels, respectively.

The Tigers weren’t really challenged in Whitepine League Division II play. They’ve won 12 of their past 14 games. In last year’s tournament, Kendrick lost its opener to eventual champion Rockland, and dropped its next game to Lighthouse Christian, which now is a 1ADI State team.

Despite their new look, the Tigers like their chances a bit better in Round 1 this time around.

“If we come prepared and play the way I know we can, we have a real good shot of pulling it off,” Ireland said. “I watched Carey play them. We both have up-tempo offenses and Carey took care of them. We can get out and running against them a little bit, put a little pressure on them. Size-wise and everything else, I think we match up pretty well.”

Colton Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

Recommended for you