To give and to take
Never mind that she’s the coach’s daughter. Never mind that she’s an offensive focal point on one of the winningest girls basketball teams in Yamhill County’s recent memory.
Willamina senior Whitney Anderson struggles to be vocal, even on the basketball court. Her relaxed personality does not immediately grab one’s attention. Instead, Anderson’s game speaks volumes, and the 2013-14 season was Anderson at her loudest.
“I would say I’m more mellow and quiet,” she says. “When it comes to sports, I’m more aggressive and outspoken than I normally am. Knowing the girls who I’m playing with, I can feel comfortable and be who I want to be.”
If the Willamina girls basketball team is a battalion, Anderson, the News-Register All-Valley Girls Basketball Player of the Year for 2014, is its commanding officer. The 5-foot-8 senior guard used her speed and skill set to torment defenses in the Class 3A West Valley League for four years. Willamina finished in third place at the Class 3A state tournament in Coos Bay and North Bend on March 6-8, the best performance by the Bulldogs since a runner-up finish in 2006.
Anderson led the Bulldogs in scoring with 10.9 points per game – a low number, but on a team that won by 30 points or more in 15 of its 26 victories, she was riding the pine in many second halves. Her 344 career assists is the school record, according to her father and Willamina head coach Tom Anderson.
Defensively, Whitney Anderson was the point woman for the Bulldogs’ ball-hawking style, taking away 130 balls from opposing players. That number stands as Willamina’s single-season record.
What is difficult to quantify, but nonetheless relevant, is the poise Anderson showed as a member of one of the clear-cut top teams in the state.
“We knew that we’d be at the top of the league but we were looking beyond that, at hopefully being (at) the top of the state,” Anderson says.
Willamina began its season with losses to Class 2A Western Mennonite and Class 2A Santiam – both of which were state semifinalists at the 2A level – before going on a tear. The Bulldogs won 23 consecutive games, sweeping through the WVL (14-0) and finishing out a 54-2 stretch in league play over Anderson’s career.
Willamina dispatched Coquille, 53-32, in its Class 3A state playoff game on Feb. 28 to qualify for the state tournament.
“Last year it was a little disappointing to go out with a loss at the end. We wanted it really bad. Our assistant coach (Cliff Toney) has a tattoo of his state baseball championship (at Willamina in 2009, where Toney is the head coach). He said, ‘If you girls win it, you’re going on the other leg.’”
The Bulldogs did their part in the quarterfinals, coming from behind to defeat St. Mary’s of Medford, 43-38. Up next was Vale, long considered the top team in the state. The Vikings beat Willamina, 38-23, on March 7 on their way to the state championship.
Anderson and the Bulldogs were determined not to let that semifinal loss derail them, as it had in 2012-13 when Willamina finished fifth. The Bulldogs exerted control over Nyssa in the third-place game on March 8, walking away with a 49-32 victory.
“After four years of basketball, it was rewarding to have that type of finish,” Anderson says. “It was a little crazy – most of the girls had tears at the end of that game. My dad came in and said, ‘It looks like we just lost.’ I probably cried the least out of everyone. I think what made me cry is my sister (Kasey) coming up to me and saying, ‘I’m really going to miss you next year.
“We were really happy with third and being able to win the last game of the season was a big thing. We went in really focused. We did everything we could.”
The story of Anderson’s career in athletics may not yet be fully told. She will attend Willamette University in Salem in the fall and will walk onto the women’s basketball team in an attempt to earn a roster spot with the Bearcats.
Under second-year head coach Peg Swadener, Willamette finished the 2013-14 season with a record of 4-21 (2-14 Northwest Conference).
“I’ve kind of been used to being on a team where winning is the expectation,” Anderson says. “That might be a different transition because they’re in the process of rebuilding, but I feel like that could be a good experience.”