In 2020, Astoria's dreams of winning the first girls basketball title in school history were dashed when the 4A tournament was canceled due to the COVID outbreak.
“I thought we had a really good chance to win state that year,” said coach Mike Jacobson, whose team took a 22-3 record into the quarterfinals.
That opportunity slipped away, but three years later, Astoria believes its championship window is open again. The Fishermen, who start three sophomores and two juniors, are 18-2 and No. 3 in the OSAAtoday 4A coaches poll.
“We've been building, and we kind of sustained it from there,” said Jacobson, who is in his eighth season with the team. “The kids believe in it. I think we're right up there with anybody else, even though we're younger.”
Astoria returned three starters from last year's Cowapa League co-champion in sophomore guard Shelby Bruney (5-9), the league co-player of the year, sophomore guard Tayla Huber (5-4) and junior guard Avery Biederman (5-7). And the team got a bonus with the addition of junior guard Maitlin Young (5-7), a transfer from Sitka, Alaska, who is leading the team in scoring.
The Fishermen (8-0 in league) hold a two-game lead over Scappoose (12-8, 6-2) in the Cowapa, which was weakened when co-champion Banks and Valley Catholic dropped down to 3A this season.
“Defensively, we're further ahead than I thought we'd be,” Jacobson said. “I'm pleasantly surprised by how we're playing. The kids have put in the time and it's paid off.”
Young's play has elevated Astoria, which lost in the first round of the playoffs last season. She is averaging 16.0 points per game, shooting 42 percent on three-pointers and 76 percent on free throws.
“She's got a quick release,” Jacobson said of Young, whose father is U.S. Coast Guard officer and helicopter pilot who was reassigned to a base in Warrenton. “She can catch and shoot on a dime. She's a heck of an offensive player. She's never had to play defense, so that's a huge transition for her, just the way we play defense. She's always got by because she's such a scorer.”
Young has developed good chemistry with Bruney, a point guard who is averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 steals. Bruney was the team's top scorer last season with a 16.0 average.
“Both of them look for each other really well,” Jacobson said. “I was kind of worried about that coming into the year, but there are no attitudes. They're just great kids, so that makes it a lot easier.”
Astoria doesn't have much size. The other starter, sophomore post Malory Dundas, is 5-9. The first two players off the bench are 5-4 sophomore guards Kya Lindell and Nayomi Holmstedt.
The Fishermen thrive in transition, capitalizing on turnovers created by their 1-2-2, three-quarter-court press. They forced 34 turnovers in a 60-46 win at St. Helens on Friday.
“We're smaller, but we're quick and we're fast,” Jacobson said.
Astoria has beaten No. 4 Philomath 51-43, No. 5 Marshfield 64-46 an 44-36 and No. 10 Crook County 41-40.
The Fishermen's only losses came against the top-ranked 3A teams, No. 1 Corbett and No. 2 Banks. They led Corbett by 17 points in the third quarter before falling 64-56 on Dec. 3. They had a five-point lead inside of two minutes left but lost to Banks 53-51 on Dec. 20.
“We should have won both of those games,” Jacobson said. “We've come a long ways offensively and defensively since those games.”
Astoria has won 13 in a row, but hasn't been as dominant in the second of three rounds of Cowapa play. The Fishermen won by an average of 33.5 points in the first round and 18.0 points in the second round. The third round begins Tuesday at Scappoose, where they scraped out a five-point win Jan. 25 after beating the Indians by 31 points in the first round.
“Complacency kind of set in,” Jacobson said. “I'm trying to tell the kids, 'We're going to get everybody's best shot.' It's definitely going to get harder.”