We are among the fortunate here in Oregon. We have a beautiful state filled with amazing places and people. We are among the fortunate here in Eugene. We have a city filled with culture and variety and a truly impressive capacity and love of sports of all forms.
While we all felt disappointment over the post Marcus Mariotta football team performance, we all felt the pride of our Men’s Basketball team making it to the Final Four. We all cheered for our Duck Women as they entered the Sweet 16 and began crushing their competition and moving on to the Elite 8. If you were paying attention to the Prep sports scene you cheered for the amazing performances of our newest crop of High School athletes.
Back behind the roar of the crowds, the pervasive College sports coverage, we discovered another team of note: one dedicated to fostering the very finest of skills and growth at a level rarely seen here outside of Prep and College team sports: This is a look at the future of Oregon women’s basketball.
To give you an idea of who they are, this team won the all state competition up in Portland and are the current State of Oregon AAU Champions. This women’s basketball team has crushed their competition in every tournament they have played in with blowout victories over more experienced, bigger and long standing teams. This last weekend this astounding team won a tournament that pitted them against the equivalent of a Division 3 team playing a Division 1 team. Here are just some of their accomplishments over the last couple of months:
- OAB Champions – Dec.17/18 2016
- OAB Co-champions – Feb 4, 2017
- OAB Champions – Feb 25-26 2017
- Columbia Gorge Classic – Junior NBA Champions – March 4-5 2017
- AAU Champions – Mar 18/19 2017
- OAB Champions – April 15, 2017
I’m talking about the Willamette Valley Ducks. A 5th Grade young women’s basketball team with really big dreams…National Championship dreams.
Two years ago these girls were playing in a YMCA league. The spark was there, the raw talent was there, but Keith Morris, father of team forward Kayla and the girls original coach, saw an opportunity with the Amateur Athletic Union to help these young athletes reach for the next level. He recruited Steve Schpankyn, and Ryan Hosek to assist in developing the girls skills.
Using a unique multi-head-coach arrangement, the three set out to mentor, teach and train this group of talented 5th graders into a cohesive and skilled team. They not only accomplished this goal, they inspired these young women to rise to the top of their league.
Watching the girls at practice, it was clear this group of athletes have focus. Many of their handling drills look like what you see at the High School level; and done well. They are a happy bunch of young women and not above a little showing off. It’s surprising to see some of the height that these girls already have: Cole Brown looks like she’s an inch away from joining a high school frosh team.
Every one of the girls we spoke to expressed happiness at being on the team (and how much they loved winning).
“Last year we didn’t do so well, a lot of us had never really played on a serious team before” said Ross.
It doesn’t show. I caught the WV Ducks AAU Championship playoff games up in Hood River and, while I’m admittedly not much of a basketball fan, I found myself cheering for the sheer intensity these girls played with. The final game of the series was played against a team they had lost to in an earlier round. The focus they came into the game with showed as they proceeded to shutdown the opposing team: steals, rebounds, clean shooting and great communication caused no end of frustration for their opponents. It was easy to forget you were watching 5th graders.
Talking to team Mom and the Treasurer for the teams founding group, The Willamette Valley Basketball Association, Jenna Jacober:
“We are so proud of these girls. They play with determination and a team spirit that is really fun to watch and be a part of. I believe that they can win the Nationals.” Jacober said.
“Most recently, Michael Mennenga Men’s Assistant Basketball Coach at University of Oregon has joined the effort. His daughter Nyla just joined the team and Coach Mennenga is very excited to be a part of our outfit and will be lending a hand with practice from time to time.” said Jacober.
Talking with Coach Steve Schpankyn about the progress the team has been making,
“We’ve all come together in the last say calendar year and the girls have found their stride and progressed, each kid is finding their momentum at different times and moments and we’ve come together as a team and a family. This is probably the most together I’ve ever seen our team by connected.” said Schpankyn.
“The girls are so into their game that we actually have a hard time controlling them at practice, our practices are so physical, sometimes the girls get wrapped up in each other”, Steve said.
Watching the girls workout, it was easy to see what he was talking about.
Coach Morris gave us a little more about the decision to become a road team and compete in the AAU:
“We have great kids, we’re developing our kids, we want them to be able to live up to their potential playing against the highest level competition possible” Keith said. “All the kids are special, all the kids are learning and having fun. It’s good to see our efforts, and theirs paying off.”
It’s clear the coaches plans is a winner.
Coach Ryan Hosek agrees,
“It’s a pleasure coaching these girls, they learn quickly and have really found the inner strength required to be really good at this sport.” Hosek said. “We are also very fortunate to have such a great coaching staff and the support of our parents and community, I’m honored to be a part of this team.”
Now that the WV Ducks have won the State Championship, the road gets much harder, and more expensive. With no existing foundations to support teams like the WV Ducks, the job of funding the team and getting them to their road games falls, as it so often does, to the parents. While all the coaches graciously donate their time, and local schools donating gym space for team practices help to keep the burden low, travelling to Ohio for the National Championships is an entirely different level of support.
In response, the WVBA registered as an Oregon 501(c)3 and immediately set out to raise funds for the girls.
If you support young women’s athletics, and would like to help see these girls give it their best to bring home the National Championship, you can lend your support at the teams GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/willamettevalleyducks