Top-ranked Papermakers, impressive over the holidays, preparing for stretch run
It is special to realize the significance of a moment … during the moment.
Don’t let it pass without acknowledgement.
Camas girls basketball coach Scott Thompson recognized it, so he called a seemingly inconsequential timeout with just 2 seconds left on the clock in a game that was, finally, decided.
There was no hope for victory last Friday for the Papermakers, not with just a couple ticks of the clock, trailing by five.
But, honestly, they had already won.
A timeout to extend the misery of a defeat?
No. Oh no.
It was a timeout to ensure his players never forgot just how incredible they had performed against the best team in the country.
Oh, and if Sierra Canyon of California is the best girls basketball team in the country, then the Camas Papermakers are pretty darn good, too.
“He just wanted us to take it in,” said Camas junior Riley Sanz. “We were playing the No. 1 team in the nation. We still battled. We pushed so hard. We played so well.”
There was no strategy talk during that timeout. Well, other than Thompson telling his girls not to foul to extend the game. There are no five-point plays in basketball, after all.
Instead, Thompson told his players to look at the score. Then look at the crowd.
The Papermakers were overjoyed, even in defeat.
“He said, ‘You guys are hanging with the top team, coming from a no-name little Washington school,’” said junior Addison Harrison, who had one of the greatest basketball weeks of her life in the POA Holiday Classic in Portland. “They wouldn’t see us on the radar. We’ve been able to hang with the top team in the nation. That’s crazy.”
“It was a nice moment to soak it all in,” added sophomore Keirra Thompson, one of the best passing guards in the state and the coach’s daughter.
The night before the Sierra Canyon contest, the Papermakers rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Clackamas, the No. 2 ranked team in Oregon.
Earlier in the season, the Papermakers put on a passing display that led to another coach saying he believed the Papermakers were the best passing team he had ever seen, even describing Keirra Thompson as Magic Johnson.
On Tuesday night, the Papermakers returned to the world of the 4A Greater St. Helens League, holding off Union 63-52 to improve to 10-2 overall, 2-0 in league play. The two losses: One to the defending state champion from Oregon, Beaverton. And the other? A 58-53 loss to Sierra Canyon in the finals of that holiday tournament.
The voters in the AP poll have Camas No. 1 in Washington among the Class 4A teams. Scorebook Live Washington also has the Papermakers No. 1.
The Papermakers love a tough schedule.
They appreciate, even more, their progress this season as they start the journey toward March.
Because by the end of February, and into that first week of March, the rankings don’t mean much.
“We want a ring,” Sanz said.
It is not necessarily a state championship-or-bust situation, but it’s close.
“We’re trying to win state, be the best we can possibly be, and wherever it takes us, it takes us,” Harris said.
That includes measuring themselves against the best of the best.
The win over Clackamas was special. Again, the Cavaliers are a great team with the best sophomore recruit in the country.
Keirra Thompson not only had her normal fine passing performance, but Sanz noted that late in the game, Thompson was dealing the fake pass, then finishing strong moves that stunned her opponents.
The Papermakers quickly cut the 10-point deficit, and the two teams exchanged big basket after big basket down the stretch.
It was tied, Camas ball, and the Papermakers had a plan.
Only, the plan didn’t work.
“In the end, we thought we were going to run a play,” Sanz said. “It didn’t happen, so we locked in.”
For the Papermakers, that meant no panic.
When Plan A went awry, they knew what to do.
Kendall Mairs cut toward the basket.
“I saw her eyes, wide open,” Sanz said.
Then Sanz delivered the pass, on the money, for a Mairs game-winner at the horn.
Keirra Thompson is the team leader in assists. But she reminds folks that in order to get an assist, a teammate has to get open and make the shot.
“It’s really nice, but honestly, the cutters are always where they are supposed to be. I don’t even have to look sometimes,” Thompson said. “I can just throw it to them and trust my teammates.”
The entire team wants to record assists, though. That is the not-so-secret key for the Camas Papermakers.
On that night, it was Riley Sanz with the game-winning pass, if you will.
“It’s really contagious,” Sanz said. “When you get that pass, ‘Oh that’s a great pass.’ You want to share so you can get that feeling for your teammates.”
“We’ll all pass up a good shot for a great shot,” Keirra Thompson said.
Harris noted that Camas can compete with the best in the country because of the passing skills of all players on the team, not just a couple.
Sure, the game-winning shot, or the leading scorer gets a lot of attention. But sometimes it is the pass that leads to the pass to the winning shot, too.
“It works. It’s overlooked so much,” Harris said. “We’re able to hang with Sierra Canyon and those types of teams. Just passing the ball, swinging the ball, and putting them in a little blender.”
Chaos for the team trying to defend it.
Poetry for the team executing it.
The Papermakers even impressed themselves a bit in the tournament.
“We didn’t know we could be this good,” Sanz acknowledged. “Everyone we talked to, everyone said we are the best passing team they’d ever seen. That’s just a great compliment.”
“The passing thing. The selflessness. That’s what’s been carrying us through all these huge games,” Harris said.
Sierra Canyon, by the way, tours the country in an effort to find the best competition. The Trailblazers are 14-0. The five-point win over Camas was the closest game of the season.
Oh, by the way, Camas performed so well even without starter Reagan Jamison, who is out for a few weeks with an injury.
All of it adds up to the best loss in Camas girls basketball history, right?
“It has to be. It has to be,” Scott Thompson said. “I wouldn’t know any different because I’ve only been here for five years. But ultimately, I don’t know if you can take a better ‘L’ than that.”
These are, indeed, special times for the program. The No. 1 ranking in the state, a competitive game that drew national attention, and a team that has only one senior on its roster.
“When you have a young team, different teams are going to pose different threats,” Thompson said. “You try to figure out how you can handle certain things, how you match up in certain contests. We’re at the point now: What haven’t we seen? We’ve handled everything well. Here we are, 12 games in, and we’ve seen all of these games and we’ve handled them really well. Win or lose, it feels like we battled and kept our composure.”
That included Tuesday night against rival and up-and-comer Union. The Papermakers were in complete control, or so it seemed, at halftime. But then the Titans went 8 for 10 on 3-pointers in the third quarter and cut an 18-point deficit to five. Freshman sensation Brooklynn Haywood scored 22 of her 27 points in the second half for the Titans, finishing the game with seven 3-pointers.
No panic in the Papermakers, though. They executed down the stretch, and Union never got closer than six points in the fourth quarter.
Harris finished with 23 points, 18 rebounds. Keirra Thompson had 14 points and 10 assists. Sanz had 11 points and three assists.
“These girls have to be able to handle that,” Scott Thompson said, noting that the team was on an emotional high last week before returning to league action.
“We have to continue to come out and be on our scouting report and know our defensive coverages and never let up at all,” the coach said. “Continue to grow instead of going backward because ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve arrived.’ It feels like we have arrived, but at the same time, these girls are handling it like they’ve been there, done that.”
The Camas Papermakers might love to pass on the basketball court, but they refuse to pass up on this opportunity this season.
(Note: Look for more on the atmosphere at the Camas-Union basketball game later this week at Clark County Today)
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