As one of two senior starters for Philomath High's girls basketball team this season, Riley Weaver is one of those players that has seen the program turn the corner from mediocrity into a conference contender.
The Warriors beat up on South Albany Friday night with a 51-28 victory for their 10th win before the end of December. That equals the number of wins that Philomath had all of last season.
"It's definitely gone a lot better than in past years I've played," said Weaver, who starts at guard for Philomath. "The team chemistry's a lot better and we all get along. On the court, it seems like we know each other more. We can connect with each other and that helps us do better."
Being on the same page definitely helps the end result but Philomath has also seen two players emerge this season as scoring machines. Sage Kramer impacted the team right away as a freshman and has the team's top scoring average. Sophomore Mia Rust has been a force as well.
"We have Sage and Mia who score a lot so we know to get them open and get them the ball," Weaver said, a statement that serves as an example of Philomath's unselfish approach to the game. "We're all willing to do that."
The Warriors and Class 5A Red Hawks played for the second time in six days. On Dec. 22, Philomath beat South Albany 64-46 on the second day of a tournament at Elmira.
"As a coach, the concern is the players not being ready to go but I thought we came out with a lot of energy, especially after a break," PHS coach Ben Silva said. "So we played the same team and we had quite a few days off for Christmas but the girls came out and responded pretty well, I thought, and had the energy we needed."
Philomath outscored South Albany 15-2 over the first six minutes to take control early. Rust was especially potent with 11 of her 22 points on the evening coming in the first quarter. In fact, Rust had 20 points next to her name in the scorebook by halftime.
Rust came through with plenty of points with Kramer missing the game because of illness.
"Not having our leading scorer, that's a challenge," Silva said. "It's good that the other girls were able to step up to overcome it."
Philomath had a little bit of a scare with junior Emma Pankalla twisting an ankle and leaving the floor for the final three minutes of the first quarter. Teammate Lauren Berklund, a senior, had limited minutes because of foul trouble.
"We had a lot of girls come in and give some good, quality minutes," Silva said.
Fourteen players saw action for the Warriors in the victory, including a few getting their first minutes at the varsity level.
Philomath led the Red Hawks 30-12 at halftime. The Warriors went up by as many as 27 in the second half, that lead materializing early in the fourth quarter.
"I think this is good preparation for league because every time we play a team a second time, the game's a little bit more of a grind," Silva said. "Some of the stuff that came easier the first time doesn't come quite as easy the second time because they're more prepared for it."
Weaver believed it was a challenge to play the same team twice in six days.
"They know our defense and our press break, so they can work around that a little more but I feel like we did a good job of running through it and getting down the court and stopping the ball on defense," Weaver said.
Philomath has won its last five games by an average of 20.6 points. In fact, the Warriors have had only one game all season that was decided by less than 10 points and that was a one-point loss at Banks back on Dec. 5.
So, will the Warriors be able to respond when they find themselves battling in a close game? It will likely happen in Oregon West Conference play, which begins next week with a home game against Stayton.
"I think we're going to have to keep our cool," Weaver said when posed with that question. "Some of us kinda freak out, so we need to keep our cool and just keep working to go through plays. ... I think if we go through our plays, we'll be fine. And if everybody talks on defense, it'll work out."
Besides the 22 by Rust, Berklund hit double figures against South Albany with 10. Junior Rivers Nuno came off the bench and scored seven.
Sophomore Cassidy Johnston scored nine to lead South Albany (3-6).
Philomath 51, South Albany 28
Friday at Philomath
SOUTH ALBANY (3-6) 6 6 5 11 — 28
PHILOMATH (10-2) 16 14 12 9 — 51
South Albany: Cassidy Johnston 3 2-5 9, Taylor Lewis 1 2-4 5, Blake Barbee 1 2-6 5, Nicole Spriggs 1 2-2 4, Morgan Maynard 1 0-0 2, Aderana Whitebird 0 2-2 2, Nikilie Robinson 0 1-6 1, Annalee Flores 0 0-0 0, Abby Sadowsky 0 0-0 0, Addison Peterson 0 0-0 0. Totals 7 11-25 28.
Philomath: Mia Rust 10 2-7 22, Lauren Berklund 5 0-0 10, Rivers Nuno 3 0-0 7, Sydney Bradley 2 1-4 5, Phaedra Hinds-Cook 1 0-0 2, Emma Pankalla 0 2-2 2, Kiya Smith 0 2-2 2, Sara Bradley 0 1-3 1, Riley Weaver 0 0-0 0, Braedyn McNeely 0 0-0 0, Lara Hunter 0 0-0 0, Amie Russell 0 0-0 0, Reagan Larson 0 0-0 0, Olivia Jahn-McLaren 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 8-18 51.
Philomath 39, South Albany 27
Friday at Philomath
SOUTH ALBANY 5 2 3 17 — 27
PHILOMATH 10 4 17 8 — 39
PHS scoring: Phaedra Hinds-Cook 10, Rivers Nuno 8, Reagan Larson 8, Kamden Combs 4, Kiya Smith 4, Alexis Van Vlack 3, Lara Hunter 2, K Bacho 0.
Team notes: The JV team’s record goes to 8-1 on the season. … Phaedra Hinds-Cook scored a team-high 10 points and was the only player to score in all four quarters. ... Rivers Nuno had eight points, half of those on a perfect 4 for 4 at the free-throw line. ... Reagan Larson also had eight points on two field goals and four free throws. ... Philomath led 14-7 at halftime and then pulled away in the third quarter with a 17-3 run. ... The team will next play on Jan. 4 at home against Stayton.