Ever since Liberty Bell’s varsity basketball player Jadyn Mitchell was in first grade, she wanted to shoot hoops. Now a sophomore at 5 foot 11 inches, she’s a force on the Lady Lions. Coached by her mother Stephanie, Jadyn and her teammates finished the 2019-20 season with an impressive 17-6 record and ranked in the top 25 of Washington class 2B schools.
Although disappointed with their 59-46 District playoff loss to Columbia Burbank, Stephanie was proud of their performance and effort. “They played really well,” she expressed, “just not good enough to win.”
Women’s basketball has grown exponentially in popularity and skill since the first team was formed in 1892 at Smith College in Massachusetts. Senda Berenson taught the game to her students primarily for health and fitness. Given the Victorian culture of the late 19th century, women initially wore knee-length skirts over loose trousers that were soon replaced with bloomers over stockings. But, mind you, men were forbidden from watching the women play and, still, the general public ridiculed the attire.
“We’ve come a long way, baby.” (Virginia Slims cigarettes were marketed to women with this slogan in 1968; thankfully, we’ve come a long way from that nightmare, too.)
A significant change came for girls/women in sports after none other than Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Educational Amendment in 1972. Before that amendment, high school girls were relegated to pep club and cheerleading — not actually participating in sports.
The amendment changed the sports system by mandating that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal assistance.” Thus, began a plethora of sports for girls.
As we approach March Madness in women’s college basketball, there’s a remarkable player to watch for her inexhaustible supply of basketball tricks, her vision on the floor, her hard work, and her demonstration of a full-on team player. University of Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu is that player. She is the first collegiate player, man or woman, ever to reach a triple double (double digits in three stat categories during a game) record during her career — 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists.
She reached this remarkable feat on Feb. 24, after having spoken at Kobe Bryant’s memorial in Los Angeles earlier in the day, then flying to the Bay Area to play the night game against Stanford with a stomach bug nipping at her heels. Remarkably, her 2K/1K/1K feat was accomplished on a date that included the jersey numbers of Gianna Bryant (2), Kobe (24) and Sabrina (20).
Last season’s consensus national player of the year and a favorite to repeat the honor this season, Sabrina and her teammates are thrilling to watch. Remember “Stockton to Malone”? “Ionescu to Hebard” rings true the same. Add Sabally, Boley and Moore and you have a Fab Five starting line-up.
Whether you bleed Crimson or are dyed-in-the-wool Purple, take a step aside from rivalries and watch the lady Ducks play in the PAC 12 Tournament and on to the NCAA Tournament. (I know there are at least a couple of other Ducks in the valley besides me — Bob and Don, you know who you are!)
In hoops conclusion, there are two (amongst many others, I’m sure) women basketball players to acknowledge here. Mazama’s own Lauren Fitzmaurice, who scored over 1,500 points her sophomore through senior year at Liberty Bell, is on the roster at Syracuse University where she is majoring in communications and rhetorical studies.
Down the road in the small town of Cashmere, there is another basketball prodigy — Hailey Van Lith. She is the nation’s No. 1 guard and No. 2 overall player on women’s basketball ranking site Prospects Nation.
She also had a connection to Kobe before his untimely death. He had reached out to her, as he wanted his daughter Gianna to experience the incredible work ethic that Hailey has obviously displayed to become the best person and basketball player she could possibly be. Not only did Hailey participate in practice with Kobe’s Mamba team in California, he and Gianna made a visit to Cashmere to watch Hailey play. A memory she will never forget.
Let’s shoot some hoops! Or maybe just watch some hoops being shot?