A year ago Archbishop Murphy had positioned itself perfectly for a state title run. The Wildcats had captured a Cascade Conference title with a perfect league record, were fresh off a district championship and owned a 13-game win streak.
Only four wins stood between Murphy and a coveted state championship gold ball. The Wildcats seemed untouchable.
Then came a regional state tournament game against top-seeded Black Hills.
A nine-point loss proved the Wildcats weren’t invincible. Following an opening round state win in Yakima, a quarterfinal loss to W.F. West ended Archbishop Murphy’s title hopes.
That was the catalyst for these 2017-18 hungry Wildcats.
“It started after state last year,” said Archbishop Murphy coach Cassie Snyder of her team’s sense of urgency this season. “(State) was a huge disappointment. They didn’t perform the way they wanted to and what they are capable of. I think it was a huge wake-up call for them that, ‘Hey, we need to have the same goals, be on the same page, trust the system and trust each other.’”
With the amount of talent brimming from Murphy’s roster, leaving the Yakima SunDome last year without any hardware felt like a missed opportunity.
But the majority of that talent returned, and a more seasoned Wildcats team is determined to capitalize on what Synder feels is a particularly special group.
Archbishop Murphy (22-2) earned a bye into the 2A Hardwood Classic quarterfinals with a 50-36 regional win over Port Angeles this past weekend. The Wildcats will face either Burlington-Edison or North Kitsap at 9 a.m. Thursday in Yakima.
“A few things last year were great for them to have experienced,” Synder said. “They kind of understand now what it takes to get there. We have six seniors, and they are not taking it for granted. They have that sense of urgency, and that makes a big difference.”
The win-now attitude has been evident since the season’s start. Murphy won its first 18 games, beating each opponent by double digits. The Wildcats average 61.9 points per game, give up an average of 31.5 points and nine times this year have held opponents to 25 points or less.
While defense has carried the Wildcats, what makes Archbishop Murphy dangerous is its depth and number of scoring options. Six players average 6.8 or more points.
Junior 6-foot guard Emily Rodabaugh leads the Wildcats in points (15.4), rebounds (6.6) and steals (3.7). Natalie Hayward, a 6-foot senior forward, is a great frontcourt complement who averages 9.0 points per game. Guard Maddie Hill averages 9.2 points, senior forward Megan Dorney averages 7.3 and sophomore forward Julia Lucas contributes 6.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
“We don’t have one or two players,” Snyder explained. “We have at least eight players that could start at any time. That is the great part about this group. Offensively, it’s hard to stop them because we don’t have a go-to player.”
Archbishop Murphy wasn’t slowed until two months into the season when it faced undefeated Lynden Christian at home. The Wildcats suffered a 44-31 loss after 18 consecutive wins and finally tasted adversity.
While the loss stung the hyper-competitive Wildcats, it may have been a hidden blessing.
“The loss was really hard for them and all of us,” Snyder admitted. “It was a great learning experience. I think it was definitely beneficial. This group is extremely competitive and so am I. I think you can learn more from a loss than a win.”
The defeat reminded Murphy the caliber it needs to play in order to have success in Yakima. A district title game loss to Burlington-Edison, the Wildcats’ only other defeat this winter, reiterated the point.
But Murphy rebounded with a critical win against Port Angeles that moved the Wildcats to the state quarters and three wins away from their state title goal.
“They knew they needed to get a win when we needed it,” Snyder said. “It goes back to that sense of urgency.”
There’s a good chance Murphy will get another shot at Burlington-Edison, a team the Wildcats beat in their season opener. A Tiger win on Wednesday against North Kitsap will create a Murphy-Edison rematch.
While the Wildcats will welcome the challenge, they’ve don’t care who they get Thursday. Yakima has stuck with Archbishop Murphy since this time last year, and the Cats are determined to return to Everett with more to boast about this time.