In the history of Cashmere girls basketball, there has not ever been a State Championship. History is within reach this week for the Bulldogs. Eric Granstrom has more in his 4-part series on The Chase for the Gold Ball…
Cashmere took 3rd in 1976 and again in 1981. The most recent run of tournament placing began in 2014 when the Bulldogs placed 3rd. Then 3rd again in 2015.
Hailey Van Lith was an 8th grader when the Cashmere girls were last bounced out of the State Tournament in 2016 by Kalama. They haven’t been bounced since.
The chase of the elusive “Gold Ball” has been slippery for Van Lith and her teammates. Senior Grace Erdmann says it became kind of funny. “It was almost laughable to us. It was like, are you kidding me?! Another year?! The first time was 1-point. Then the second year it was 2-points. So what’s next year, 3-points?!” Erdmann says it’s heartbreaking, “but it makes you want it more. Coming into this season, the last (chance) to get it done, I’m hungry for that Gold Ball.”
Cashmere has placed 2nd twice and 3rd last year
Cashmere took 2nd in 2017, losing by one to Mount Baker (45-44). Then they took 2nd in 2018, losing by two points to Lynden Christian (50-48). Cashmere lost to La Salle in the semifinals last year 41-35 and came back to place 3rd, beating Medical Lake 55-33.
Do the girls talk about it? Erdmann says they have to. “I’d say we talk about it because so many people talk about it to us, so we have to address it. We know it’s a possibility. We came in our freshman year and had a perfect record, so we know you’re never safe.” The 6’1″ senior post says the experience of the past keeps them focused. “You always have to stay hungry. You always have to be on your best game because anyone that plays us is going to be on their A-game. They want to beat us. So we have to have a more-hungry mentality that we’re going to win this game.”
Grace Hammond says coming close causes the Bulldogs to push harder
5’4″ senior Grace Hammond is average over 10-points a game this season. She says the experience of coming so close in the past three years makes the Bulldogs work harder in practice. “It definitely fuels things. It’s definitely heartbreaking to be that close and have it taken from you. It just goes to show that it’s not that easy to raise that Gold Ball. So that just motivates us everyday and gets us working hard at practice and being competitive.” Hammond says Cashmere’s practices can get pretty rough, but she says the competitiveness on the court is replaced by great friendship and camaraderie off the court.
5’6″ junior post Peyton Brown says everyone on the team understands what’s at stake. “It’s crazy to think that we have an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before. We can create history for our little town of Cashmere. I think that’s a really special opportunity and want to make the most of it.”
The youngest starter is sophomore Riley Johnson. The 5’9″ guard says she and her teammates have had their sites set all season. “Our goal is to get a State Championship with the girls that I’ve grown up with. It’s been really fun practicing and getting prepared for it.” Johnson says it’s been something she’s dreamed about since she was in grade school. “I’ve had this goal since I was little but now it’s become a reality.” Johnson was a freshman on last year’s 3rd place team and feels the Bulldogs are much better and have a really good chance of winning it all this week.
Van Lith says if it happens, she’ll be happy to do it with her best friends
Senior Hailey Van Lith says she’s looking forward to all the hard work paying off. She said, “just to never quite get there after we push ourselves so hard has been something that is hard for us to deal with. This year would just be an overwhelming emotion to do it with my best friends and a coach that I’ll have a friendship with the rest of my life is something that, I don’t know what I’ll feel. Probably a lot of tears of joy.
Coach Brent Darnell says a State Championship was never the goal
And while the players freely talk about wanting the State Championship for the first time in school history, Coach Brent Darnell refuses to talk about it. “I know what the talk is, with all the social media, it constantly gets brought up. But I don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. We never set a team goal to even win a league championship. We never sat down and said let’s win league this year, or our goal is to win districts. I never put those goals on us.”
Instead, Darnell focuses on what’s right in front of them. “I try to goals on us like rebounding goals and taking care of the ball this game and limiting turnovers. Let’s just try to meet these small goals every single game. Those are the ones I try to really focus on. If it (State Title) happens great. If it doesn’t than the stars weren’t aligned.” Darnell refuses to let a single loss define his team’s season.
Whether it’s spoken or not, the goal is to be standing on the floor of the Sun Dome Saturday night hoisting the elusive Gold Ball and celebrating the first Girls State Basketball Championship in school history.
NCWLIFE will be in Yakima this week following both the girls and boys from Cashmere at the State 1A Tournament. Eric Granstrom will have live updates on our Facebook page throughout. In addition, NCWLIFE will broadcast the girls game Thursday at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Meridian and Annie Wright.