On one hand, Kendra Winchester was nervous about coming to play basketball her senior year at Chiawana High in Pasco.
Joining a team that had won four consecutive league titles and is a perennial powerhouse in Class 4A is intimidating. Despite all of that, though, Winchester felt like she was coming home.
Her dad, Tony, graduated from Pasco High in 1987, playing football and track and field. He also happens to be really good friends with Steve Davis, the girls basketball coach at Chiawana.
My mom told me I could go wherever I wanted ... it was kind of like why not come to my second home?, Kendra said. I know Davis and he knows me and how I play. It was kind of an easy transition coaching wise. That was really nice, because nobody likes to go to a new program and know nobody.
I know that Davis truly cares about us getting better as players and people and trying to take us to the next level.
Winchester has had an up-and-down season trying to fit in with a group of girls who just won their fifth consecutive league title. The Riverhawks (17-2 overall, 13-0 Mid-Columbia Conference) close the regular season at Walla Walla on Friday night and then will await a team to be determined in the District 5 championship game Saturday, Feb. 15.
Its taken awhile (to fit in) because they havent worked with a true post in a few years, she said. It is hard to play with a team that hasnt had a post, because you have to work it into the post. Regardless of whether we are making shots or not, you have to get it in because it opens up shots (on the outside).
The Riverhawks have started to figure out their new weapon of late, though, and are clicking at the right time heading into the postseason.
It is nice to have a threat down low, especially rebounding, Chiawanas Delaney Hodgins said. I think we are working as a team and we have more than one threat we have shooters, drivers and post players. Just overall team players.
Winchesters size she is 6-feet, 1-inch forced Davis to change up his patented offense this season.
Our system isnt really designed to do post stuff, he said. One of the things we did this year was to incorporate a lot of high-low stuff. Its a work in progress, but it is coming along.
Winchester has been playing basketball all her life.
Her mom, Trisha Whitman, was a two-sport star at Shadle Park High in Spokane, winning consecutive volleyball and basketball titles in 1988 and 1989.
While her dad never played basketball in high school, he was still extremely athletic for the Bulldogs in football and track.
She almost gave it up after 8th grade, Tony said, because she is a bigger girl and she is tall and the other girls were faster. I told her to stay with it, that it is going to happen.
Going into her sophomore year, it all kind of clicked. The hard work paid off. She grinded it out, and she got taller and taller and taller.
As she grew taller, she kept working hard and eventually became a starter at Shadle Park as a junior. The Highlanders advanced to regionals, but failed to make state against very tough Greater Spokane League competition.
Kendra and her brother Dallas moved to Pasco last year after her parents got divorced. Her mom works at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, so it was easier to move close to Trishas job.
After arriving in the Tri-Cities, Kendra chose to go to Chiawana and try to help the Riverhawks get back to the state tournament for the first time in three years.
The message Kendra has always gotten from myself is that if she is true to her own goals and values, people will respond accordingly, Whitman said. And they have. She knew it was a successful program and she would have to blend in with them. It is a great program. The girls are just lovely. I couldnt ask for anything better for my daughter.
Her arrival also helped change expectations for the Riverhawks. The team was a heavy favorite to win the league title with or without Winchester, but her addition gave them a level of depth they havent had in a few years.
When I got here at the beginning of the year, (other students) didnt even ask my name, Kendra said. It was like, Are you the new basketball player thats going to take us to state? It was kind of ridiculous.
This season I think Ive had an all right season, not as great as I wanted it to be. The expectations were very, very high, but I feel like my teammates have helped me get better and the relationships Ive made will last a lifetime, even in the short amount of time Ive been here.