Whittell girls basketball team completes turnaround, claims league championship
NIAA Class 1A Playoffs
Girls — Quarterfinals
Thursday, Feb. 21
Virginia City (No. 1 West) vs. Wells (No. 4 East), 3:15 p.m., Wooster High School
McDermitt (No. 1 East) vs. Sierra Lutheran (No. 4 West), 6:35 p.m., Wooster
Whittell (No. 2 West) vs. Owyhee (No. 3 East), 4:55 p.m., Hug High School
Eureka (No. 2 East) vs. Pyramid Lake (No. 3 West), 8:15 p.m., Hug
Friday, Feb. 22
Whittell/Owyhee vs. McDemitt/Sierra Lutheran, 3:15 p.m., Wooster
VC/Wells vs. Eureka/Pyramid, 6:35 p.m., Wooster
Saturday, Feb. 23
TBD vs. TBD, 3 p.m., Wooster
ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. — “I did not see this coming,” said a smiling Whittell senior Madison Burch.
That’s all right, Madison, nobody saw this coming.
That is until longtime, legendary coach Phil Bryant took over the Lady Warriors basketball program just before the season started.
Whittell put an exclamation point on a remarkable turnaround season Tuesday night with a 47-12 victory over Sage Ridge that clinched a share of the 1A West League title.
It’s the first league title for Whittell since 2006 and the first time the program has had any success in a decade.
“This is my fourth year on the team and we’ve never gotten close (to a league title or playoffs),” Burch said. “I don’t think we’ve ever talked about something more. Even throughout the school, girls that would come back from previous years would talk about how they’d like to play with us. It’s very exciting.”
“A lot of people know and they’re kinda shocked like, ‘What? Wait, girls’ basketball is winning now?’,” Whittell senior Anna White said. “It’s definitely an improvement from last year and the past years I’ve played. It feels good to come out with a league championship. It has made my senior year a lot better, a lot more fun.”
Whittell won an average of just over six games per season over the last 11 years, but with Bryant at the helm the Warriors went 16-6 this season and 9-1 in league to make their first postseason appearance since 2008-09 when the team won 11 games.
Bryant has been the boys’ coach for the past seven seasons and has won two state championships. And that’s after he retired from coaching and winning titles for 39 years at Westwood High School in Northern California.
When he coached both teams there for two seasons, both teams won section titles in the same season and lost a combined total of 15 games.
“For the girls to be co-champions, I’m real happy for them,” Bryant said. “They got to experience the other side of the coin. They’re probably pretty glad it’s almost over because I’m pretty tough on them.”
“Yeah he’s hard on us,” said Whittell senior Brianna Johns. “But he loves us so much and the feelings are returned. Having that connection with Phil that I’ve had for the last four years helps. We’re all really comfortable with him. He treats us like his own children. This has been so much fun this year.”
The Warriors ran onto their home court with confidence and determination in front of a whopping five fans at tip-off. With the school on winter break, and due to the game being a makeup from a postponement caused by a winter storm, it was off the radar for most.
“We cheer ourselves on, we’re self sufficient,” joked Burch.
Whittell jumped on Sage Ridge and led 18-4 after the first quarter.
Johns was aggressive driving to the basket and scored all six of her points. White also had six points on fast-break layups.
Sierra Ridge drained a pair of 3s to get to 18-10 halfway through the second period, but then Whittell shut down the Scorpions and allowed just two points the rest of the way, including not giving up a single point in the second half.
“Well, it’s one of those things where we are better than they are,” Bryant said.
The Warriors, who had been having trouble hitting shots consistently, knocked them down all night.
They made 22 field goals, including a pair of 3-pointers.
White connected for her first 3-pointer of the season, and second of her career, in the third period from the top of the key. The ball hit the back rim, launched about 8 feet in the air and dropped down through the net barely touching the twine.
The reaction was priceless.
“I told coach at halftime that I was going to shoot one and he just laughed,” said White, who finished with a team-high 13 points. “And when I said shoot, I definitely didn’t think I’d make it but then it went in and everyone got really excited because they know I never shoot 3s, let alone make them. My reaction was genuine shock that it went in. It was a perfect way to play the last time on my home court.”
Also for the Warriors, Burch scored nine points, Trinity Kirvada-McGowan added eight, Jessica Johnson had five and Shaylie Rippet, Kyla Rippet and Andrea Smith each scored a bucket.
The Warriors will face Owyhee (11-8, 5-3 East), the No. 3 seed from the East League, at 4:55 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, (after press deadline) in the quarterfinals of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Class 1A West-East Region Basketball Championships at Hug High School in Reno.
The Warriors lost 51-44 in the second week of the season at the Whittell Tournament.
Should the Warriors advance, they would play at 3:15 p.m. against McDermitt/Sierra Lutheran in the semifinals at Wooster High School in Reno. Should the dream season continue, the tournament championship will be played at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Wooster.
“Hopefully we play well at zone,” Bryant said. “The East is a lot better than the West. Owyhee, we played them earlier this year, they’re a playoff team every year. We’ll go see what happens.”