WARDEN — If you watch them run the floor during team drills, you’d be hard pressed to pick out the freshmen, and there’s four of them.
There’s no gangly kid that plays like a baby giraffe. No insecure kid that looks like she might cry if you say, “Boo.” Nobody gasping for air, trying to keep up.
They go against one of the most prolific scorers in Warden girls basketball history every day in practice in senior Bailey Whitney, who joined the 1,000-point club earlier this season. They run the floor with the speedy soccer girls, Aubree Skone and Ashlyn Yamane.
In fact, at 5-foot-8, 5-8 and 5-9, it’s almost impossible to pick them out, let alone pick on the Cougar freshmen because they got game, and they ain’t afraid to take it to the rack on anyone. They’ve been thumped on, pushed around and even schooled on occasion playing AAU ball in Portland, Seattle and Las Vegas, but they always come up smiling.
Warden assistant Erik Skone was running Wednesday’s full-court drill, whomping on an unsuspecting girl every now and then with one of those football blocking pads as they circled under the rim to add a physical element to the drill. But when Rylee McKay came down the left wing, he surprised the 5-9 post by throwing the pad at her. She let out a little yelp, squared and drained an 18-footer, nothing but net, before tipping over on the pad at her feet. It might have been practice, but it was game-on for a group with its sights set on the Yakima SunDome.
These kids are ballers and not even a pad flying through the air throws them off their game. Jaryn Madsen (5-8, G), Kiana Rios (5-8, F) and McKay (5-9, P) have been playing together since they were seven- eight-years-old. The roster reads ninth grader, but they don’t play like freshmen. They have integrated nicely into the lineup on a team that features five seniors, one junior, one sophomore and four freshmen.
First-year Cougars coach Josh Madsen has coached them every step of the way during the AAU schedule. Now he’s the Warden varsity coach and the SCAC East No. 1-seeded Cougars have their sights on greatness.
“That’s been my thing all along, that they’re not just good for Warden,” said Madsen, whose team is ranked seventh in the RPI rankings. “Not just good for the Columbia Basin. Sometimes it’s tough in a small town, because you can get complacent. You say you’re good enough, but these girls want to be good in any arena.”
At first impression, from the outside looking in, the Cougars seem like a team with seniors that grew up playing other sports together and a freshmen group that came up through the AAU ranks together. But they have blended together rather quickly Rios said.
“We’ve played against older players coming up and now we’re learning how to play with them,” said Rios, who had 16 points in the SCAC District opener Tuesday night against Cle Elum/Roslyn. “I’ve played with Rylee and Jaryn for so long we know how each other plays.
“Rylee is very aggressive going for a loose ball or playing defense. But she likes to drive the lane and go hard to the basket. Kylee is a really good shooter. She’s always been a good scorer.”
Tuesday night’s game was their first varsity postseason experience and they responded to the big stage, combining for 42 of the Cougars’ 65 points. Rios and McKay had 16 apiece and Madsen had 10.
“Kiana is probably one of the fastest girls I know,” McKay said. “She plays very aggressive and is never scared to put the ball in the hole. She’s always attacking with everything she does. Jaryn is amazing, she’s never scared to shoot. She always has your back.”
Said Jaryn, “We’ll start (the game) on the floor at the same time, but then other people come in throughout the game. I’ve learned a lot from Bailey. She pushes us in practice to play harder and I think we need that.”
The Warden future’s so bright they have to wear shades, and the interesting thing is they have more on the way.
“I have another one that’s coming,” said coach Madsen. “We have a few more on the way.”
More on the way, suppose that’s just what the rest of the SCAC East wants to hear? The Cougars will play either Royal or Granger Saturday night in the next round of the district tournament.