MOSES LAKE — Moses Lake head coach Matt Strophy spoke of a “championship culture” during an afternoon practice over the Thanksgiving break.
The culture was cultivated in 2008. Led by Carly Noyes, Ann Noyes and Jordan Loera, the Chiefs advanced to the state championship game and took second after a 42-37 loss to Lewis and Clark.
It was the first of three straight years of hardware at the state tournament, which included sixth place in 2009 and eighth place in 2010.
After a brief lull, Moses Lake returned to state tournament stalwart status the last three seasons. Jessie Loera and the Chiefs came one basket away from playing for a second state championship in 2014, settling for fifth place; the addition of Jamie Loera in 2015 granted another fifth-place finish; and in 2016 the Chiefs put together a 23-game win streak and took fourth in state, losing to eventual champion Central Valley in the first round.
“For me, I don’t know what it’s like not to go to state,” forward Abby Rathbun said. “It’s that push that drives me every year like got to get back, got to get back. I love going all the way to the last game as possible. It’s my dream every since watching Carly and Ann and Jordan, seeing those girls make it to the final game. It’s my dream to bring home a state championship with our team.”
That quest for the Golden Ball will be difficult after the graduation of point guard Jessie Loera. Now playing for Gonzaga, Jessie Loera was the GPS inside the Ferrari that was Moses Lake’s offense a season ago — constantly making the heady play and putting the ball in spots her teammates could be successful in.
But one Loera deserves another, as Jamie will slide into the lead guard role after spot duty as a sophomore and a few starts in 2015 when Jessie was injured.
“My role’s definitely different,” said Jamie Loera, who made the state basketball all-tournament second team in 2016. “More distributing because Jessie was an a lot of assists maker and more leadership and talking and getting the girls where they needed to go. Stepping up with my position — I didn’t play point guard the whole time last year and that’s what I’ll mostly play so kind of getting everyone together on offense and defense so that will be the biggest one.”
Along with Jessie Loera, starter Taylor Yamane and reserve Mikayla Chavez also graduated.
“We do have seven full-time varsity players out of our 10 back from last year and then nine out of the 12 that went to the playoffs with us,” Strophy said. “So we have a good core group of girls returning and then Charity Talo comes in from Lincoln High School in Tacoma to give us our 10th and she came in at the end of last season and people might have recognized her on the bench just kind of there, but wasn’t cleared eligibility-wise so this year is her first year of eligibility so there’s our 10 that we have.
“I guess the effort is what I’ve really noticed the most of this season — not that it was any different, better or worse — but that’s just something that right now has been a positive that I like how hard they’re working and the effort they’re putting in to get themselves better because we do have girls that are going to be often playing different roles.”
Moses Lake won’t have to wait until March to see state-caliber teams. A robust non-league schedule includes a rematch with reigning 4A champion Central Valley Dec. 30 at home; two road games against 3A qualifiers Lynnwood and Kamiakin; and another home game against 4A fifth place finisher Bothell Jan. 21 at home.
“It’s going to be tough and it’s a lot better than our games from last year,” senior captain Jessica Olson said. “It’s fun to win, but not by 30 and 40 points. It’s not even really a game so we can have good competition to get us ready for playoffs and stuff.”