Monday, April 15, 2024

Not done yet

Local Editor | February 13, 2024 1:00 AM

KELLOGG –– What a difference a year can make. 

Almost one year to the day, the Kellogg Wildcats had their season ended by the Ambrose Archers – the four-point loss at Lewiston High School was a feeling that Jana Nearing and her team couldn’t shake.  

After losing to Grangeville in the district championship game last Wednesday, and then grinding out their fourth win of the year over a pesky Priest River team the very next day, it was another neutral site date with the Archers and a trip to state on the line. 

Many of the high school sports pundits in Idaho didn’t give Kellogg a shot to win this game, which only added locker room material for Nearing to use in the short time they had to prepare. 

And they were prepared.

32 minutes later, Kellogg got just about everything that they wanted; A 64-27 win, a measure of revenge, and a state tournament ticket punched.

The Wildcats held Ambrose scoreless for the final 10 minutes and eight seconds of the game, going on a 24-0 run to finish the game – showing an aggressive edge that hasn’t always materialized for this squad, but will go a long way when they step onto the court later this week. 

The only caveat is that they will open the 2A State Tournament against top-seeded Grangeville. 

Kellogg had three opportunities this year to knock off the Bulldogs (21-2), who haven’t lost a game since December. Nearing isn’t deterred by this. In fact, she’s leaning into it. 

“We have battled with the number one seed three times. All without our full roster,” Nearing said. “We are going to bring everything we have to this first matchup. It’s going to be so much fun.”

Seeded eighth, Kellogg finished the season as the 10th-ranked team according to MaxPreps, which means that the 2A tournament will be one of the more tightly contested brackets during the coming weekend – but the Wildcats have a veteran-laden roster that is built to handle stretches like the road they’re going to attempt to navigate this week. 

“Our seniors are amazing athletes and humans,” Nearing said. “They are leading us here and growing our younger players every day. I’m so thankful to get a postseason with them. The extra games and extra time.”

A year ago, after their season had come to its abrupt end, Nearing reflected on the storm that she and her team had navigated, both on and off the court – which made this year all the sweeter. 

“Last year was a tough one. I was battling cancer and chemotherapy. And our girls were young. It was a hard road. But all of us gained insight and grit,” Nearing said. “We all know what a blessing it is to have each other and work for each other. This team (plus 2023 graduate Haylee Potts) got me through what could end up being the hardest thing I have ever faced last year. And I am determined to give them all I have to make this year incredible for them.”

Fortunately for Nearing, she hasn’t had to do this alone. 

Assistant coach Gus Colburn has been by her side with the program for the past three seasons and his fingerprints are all over this year’s team. 

A former Kellogg standout, Colburn’s approach to practice and workouts has turned solid players into league MVP caliber players for the Purple and Gold. 

Nearing credits a lot of the recent win over Ambrose, to the behind-the-scenes efforts that Colburn put in before practice to make sure that their season didn’t end the same way as last year’s. 

“We have a secret weapon – Gus Colburn,” Nearing said. “An analytic genius. It felt great knowing that we were fully prepared and dialed in.” 

Senior Macy Jerome is probably the biggest example of Colburn’s impact on the team – her 20 points per game have come efficiently thanks to extensive shooting workouts, but she wasn’t alone, as many of the players made sure to get extra time in the gym with Colburn during the season. 

“The girls have put in so many unseen hours of work building up to these games,” Colburn said. “I’m super excited for them that they get this opportunity to play on the big stage again. This is such a great group of girls and I’m honored to be a part of their season.” 

The Kellogg Wildcats will open up their quest for a state championship against Grangeville this Thursday at 2 p.m. (MST) at Kuna High School. 

“Gus and I wholeheartedly believe in these kids and I know that they believe in us,” Nearing said. “We have been working to encourage our bench to reach their potential. And this stretch is the perfect time for them to shine. We are so thankful to our community, parents, student section, and Wildcats Live. Our Band and cheerleaders. I love my job and I love this town.”