Eugene — Three days at the Corvallis Holiday Showcase, three ranked teams, three wins, one ultimate champion. After Wednesday’s buzzer beater tournament championship dub over West Albany, there’s certainly no doubt about who stands atop the 5A landscape, it’s the Willamette Wolverines! This youthful group that comes anchored by a 5’10” Freshman phenom in Maddy Warburg has not only proven themselves but have blown expectations out of the water at such an early stage of the season. Merry Christmas Willamette Nation, you have yourselves a state championship contender in hoops!
It has certainly been a crash course to learn about Willamette’s rejuvenated program in such a short time. In the preseason, I’d heard rumblings through the vine but no concrete confirmation about the Wolverines, so I kept them in mind as a team to rise into the Top 10 this season and make waves. After they defeated Churchill for their first resume win of the year, they entered the Top 10 with room to rise during the Spartan Holiday Showcase in Corvallis. Instead of rising, they took 5A by the horns to the summit of the class over the three days of action. It was a volcanic explosion that culminated everything that this program has to showcase to the state at large, something that only 6A Clackamas can claim to replicate in such a short time.
Obviously, this type of climb to the top doesn’t happen often, its usually culminates an entire season to make the rise instead of just three weeks or even three days at that. However, this is no ordinary team. Maddy Warburg is the beat of this team on the floor as a freshman, her talent is second to none on this team. She has an uncanny ability to drive, shoot, steal, or disrupt the opposition, running a motor that hums like a well-oiled Lamborghini on a racetrack. Her energy is contagious on the floor, it’s like a shot of hot chocolate on a cold winter morning, and it spreads to her teammates and the play on the floor. Warburg has the potential to be one of the best in Oregon history if she keeps growing her game and athletic abilities. Fellow Freshman Brynn Smith is a great perimeter shooter, she can pull up treys on a whim and drill them with regular consistency. She brings up flashes of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, a perimeter sniper that can drills treys at will and also drive to the hole if all else fails. Smith’s potential as a multidimensional offensive threat and defensive lockdown remains to be seen, but through seven career high school games, Smith has left a great first impression on the high school scene. Victoria Nguyen is a bit quieter but still a talented freshman that will fly under the radar. Nguyen is a high-pressure defensive staple of this Wolverine press, forcing the opposition into blind decision-making that turns into turnovers. She also has a great basketball IQ, finding the spot to put herself in to score for her team or help her teammates. Harper Wagner is another freshman with regular minutes for the Wolverines, and more about her will become clearer as the season moves alone.
In all the hype of their talented freshman, it’s easy to forget about the older players who help compliment this team. Their 6’0″ post Nancy Coffman is a great player down low, providing a brick wall to the opposition and making life horrible down in the trenches. She has great court vision, figuring out where to dish the ball at with the best opportunity to put the ball in the basket. Her fight for rebounds stands out like a pogo stick that can’t quit jumping up and down. She crashes the boards with such aggression and force that it makes life so much harder for those who dare challenge her for a rebound. Coffman is also a great putback queen, cleaning up the boards with regularity and dropping buckets off the rebound. You want to have a Nancy Coffman on your roster. I’ve also taken notice of Kayla Morris, a sophomore with a knack of being in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s taking a pass to the rack, dishing the ball around, or just helping out on the floor, Morris is a great help piece for Willamette’s youthful core.
With all this talent, it’s clear that 5A was in for a reality check at some point this season. They’ve defeated Churchill, Corvallis, Crater, and West Albany, four quality teams that will certainly be within the Top 8 of the 5A playoffs in March, all within the window of Friday to Wednesday. Come the day after Christmas, the Wolverines will overthrow Corvallis and be the undisputed #1 on the 5A scene, with the rest to fall in line behind them. Can they sustain the momentum? Will anyone beat them this season? All great questions, but if you are Willamette, you are just savoring every moment and focusing on the next task at hand.