OWYHEE – The past two Division 1A girls basketball seasons have ended in the same fashion, with Owyhee head coach Todd Tate hoisting the state trophy over his head to the collective cheers of his Lady Braves.
Owyhee claimed the 2016 state championship in a back-and-forth dogfight by a final score of 61-54 over 1A North rival McDermitt.
In 2017, the finish was much more anticlimactic – the Lady Braves steamrolling Round Mountain in the championship by nearly 30 points at 65-37.
When the 2017-2018 season gets underway, coach Tate and the Lady Braves have one thing on their minds; three-peat.
Owyhee’s two-in-a-row title defense will be without the anchor of its interior, graduated center Kaira Egan, a 2nd-Team All-League selection last year.
Egan was a monster in the middle for the Lady Braves, averaging a double-double for the season.
She finished third on the team in scoring at 12.5 points per game, but her team-best 10.7 rebounds (second in the league) per contest changed the complexion of games for the Lady Braves – often turning defensive rebounds into easy transition buckets for her teammates and offensive boards accounting for numerous second-chance points.
Egan notched her season high of 23 points twice, coming in a 69-68 loss on Jan. 28 in Eureka and a 75-54 loss to Rio Linda (California) on Dec. 28, 2016.
Here’s an absurd number – 24 rebounds – accompanying 15 points, three assists, three steals and three blocks in a 68-65 win on Jan. 20 in Wells.
While Egan’s 10.7 rebounds per game finished second in the league, nobody blocked more shots than Egan – with 2.3 swats per game finishing a full block ahead of second place.
The Lady Braves will also miss the contributions of graduated Dayani Manning, who led the defensive attack with nearly four steals per game, adding six points per contest.
Who’s back for
As the state prepares to dethrone Owyhee from the top of the heap, look no further than trying to find a way to stop the one-two punch.
Junior point guard Macee McKinney-Cota and senior Kaylani Smartt have already shown what they can do with the rock in their hands – play to 1st-Team All-League selections and lead their team to back-to-back state championships.
Cota led the Lady Braves in scoring, pouring in 19.5 points per game during her sophomore campaign after contributing largely to a state championship as a freshman.
She not only led Owyhee in scoring, her average was the best in the league.
She also set up her teammates well, leading Owyhee with 2.6 assists per game.
In Owyhee’s 65-37 victory in the 1A girls state final over Round Mountain on Feb. 25 at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Cota scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half.
Playing in 25 games, she found or eclipsed the 20-point mark 13 times – dropping a season-high 29 in a 63-52 victory on Feb. 4 over McDermitt.
Smartt averaged a double-double for the Lady Braves, finishing second on the roster with 16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds – both third-best in the league – and 3.1 steals per game.
In the state championship, Smartt scored a game-high 22 points.
Her best game of the season came at an important time, a 71-58 victory over McDermitt in the 1A North regional semifinal.
Smartt went off to the tune of a season-high 34 points, adding 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks in of the more virtuoso performances of the year by any player in any division.
In 23 ballgames, she posted a ridiculous 15 double-doubles.
Also back for the Lady Leopards are junior Cree-Lynn Raining Bird and senior Destany Pete.
Raining Bird scored 4.2 points per game last season, posting season highs of nine points on two occasions, Dec. 29, 2016 against Bethel (California) and Feb. 1 against Carlin.
She possesses an all-around game and can play multiple positions – pulling down 10 rebounds and making five steals in state championship game and dishing seven assists on Feb. 24 against Pahranagat Valley in the state semifinal.
Pete scored her season high of eight points in the 1A North regional quarterfinal on Feb. 16 against Virginia City, averaging 2.5 points per game for the season.
The Lady Braves’ title defense will take its first test at 5 p.m. MST Friday against Rimrock (Idaho) in Owyhee.