The Zillah High girls basketball team has been facing a loser-out scenario for the past two games, so what’s one more?
After emerging from SCAC district tournament with a pair of victories over College Place and Warden on Feb. 15-16, the Leopards face another loser-out game Saturday, Feb. 22, in the regional round of the Class 1A State Championships.
“We’ve been in loser-out games for a week now, so the girls have been figuring out what they’re made of,” said head coach Brandie Valadez, whose squad is 17-6 overall heading into Saturday’s matchup against Montesano.
The Leps have won seven of their past nine games overall, which may have helped down the stretch against Warden. Trailing by five in the fourth quarter, the Feb. 16 matchup could have very easily spelled the end of the road for Valadez’s young team.
Fortunately, senior team leader Callie Delp helped the Leopards rally down the stretch, finishing with a game-high 16 points. That is the type of leadership Zillah has come to expect from its three-year starter and team captain.
“Callie has really risen to the occasion this year and taken all of the younger players under her wing,” Valadez said of Delp, who led the Leopards with 19 points, three assists and three steals per game this season.
The coach added that this season has been an adjustment for Delp, who has always been surrounded by college-level recruits like Samantha Bowman (Central Washington University) and Trista Takes Enemy (Yakima Valley College).
Valadez is proud of how Delp has responded in the leadership role.
“She has been seeing the floor really well and making the passes when she needs to,” the coach said. “But she’s also learned to make safer passes to the younger players. It took time for them to get used to her style, but once they did, we’ve been able to do more on offense.”
Zillah has now won seven of its past nine games and is hoping to earn a return trip to the SunDome next weekend. The Leopards are No. 11 in the state’s RPI rankings, which means they must defeat No. 14 Montesano to advance (the top eight seeds advance automatically based on the format adopted by the WIAA in 2016).
Valadez said that if the Leopards get back to the Dome, it will be because everyone on the team did their job, not just one individual. While it’s great to have a star like Delp, she knows depth is key when you get to the postseason.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster for us, but the girls are getting better and that’s what counts,” the coach said. “They are learning to step up in big moments, and that’s been fun to see.”
Another player who has stood out this season — and who could be a future team leader — is freshman Brynn Widner. She not only averaged eight points and seven rebounds, but also filled in admirably when Delp injured her ankle toward the end of the regular season.
“She just took over and she’s continued to play with that confidence since Callie has been back,” Valadez said. “That was big for a 14-year-old to come in and carry the team like that.”
Valadez also praised the hard work and consistency of senior starters Addyson Krueger and Madison Elizondo, saying their character and athleticism will be missed next year.
Four more underclassmen who have been earning consistent minutes are sophomores Hollie Ziegler, Maddy Wallace, Emily Nishi and Abby Kallenberger.
That group, plus Widner, will make up the core for next season. But for now, all the Leopards are worried about is Saturday.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time because if we don’t take care of business on Saturday, we won’t even have a tomorrow,” Valadez said.