Not since McKenzie Burgess dominated on the courts at Kiona-Benton High School more than a dozen years ago have the Bears had so much to cheer about with their girls sports programs.
The Ki-Be volleyball team is off to a 7-0 start in the SCAC East, while the soccer team is 6-0 in SCAC play and 9-1 overall.
“I think it is totally awesome,” Bears volleyball coach Jolene Calzadillas said. “I think it is good for Ki-Be female sports. The freshman class is pretty athletic in both sports. The school is buzzing. It is fun times.”
First-year soccer coach Marc Anderson is enjoying the success of not only his team, but the volleyball team, as well.
“It’s always good for the school when you have programs that help build the community,” Anderson said. “Jolene has done a good job with her club program, and that is part of the reason they are seeing success. It’s fantastic to have two programs like this in the community, especially in a small town like this. When teams are winning, the support is good.”
Athletic director Lance Den Boer, who starred in basketball at Sunnyside Christian, said he knows all too well what it’s like to compete at a small school, and he is pleased to see the programs doing well and the community support behind them.
“I’m very proud,” Den Boer said. “They have been putting in a lot of work teaching them skills and how to be young ladies on and off the field. It’s enjoyable to see. I just talked to someone the other day about two girls sports doing well at the same time. There is a buzz in the community. People are getting more involved and enjoying the success. Our athletes see that, and they get excited to see the fans in the stands.”
And the students have gotten involved, too.
“The ASB has taken steps to bring out the school spirit at sporting events,” Den Boer said.
On the court
Calzadillas, in her third year at the helm of the program, has brought respect to program that once dominated the the small-school scene.
She took the Bears to state last year for the first time since 2005 (sixth at 2A tournament). They finished 0-2, but it was a big step for the program.
“These girls push me,” Calzadillas said. “They want an up-tempo practice every day. I’m blessed to have a group of girls who get along. That’s makes a huge difference, and I have great leadership as well. We have taken the mentality to play for each other, our school, the community and our alumni. We are trying to get back what Ki-Be once was. I played against Ki-Be when I was in high school (at Columbia-Burbank). They were dominant.”
The Bears have a balanced group with four seniors, two junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. Junior Mihaela Edwards and senior Tegan Carlson see a ton of work at the net, but the pressure doesn’t always fall on them.
“Luckily, my girls understand that it is a group effort,” Calzadillas said. “We can’t get our kills if we don’t get the passes. It takes all 10 of us.”
Sophomore Maloree Calzadillas leads the Bears with 103 kills and 189 assists, while Edwards has 88 kills and Carlson 94 kills and 185 digs.
Coaching the Bears is a family affair for Calzadillas. Her husband JJ is one of her assistant coaches, and her daughters Maloree and Nya (freshman) play for her.
“We try and take our coaching hats off when we leave school,” Calzadillas said. “At the gym, we tell them we are your coaches, not your parents, and you have to respect that. I have an awesome assistant coach in Tracy King, who keeps us grounded as a family.”
Kiona-Benton will start the second half of the season Tuesday at Connell.
On the pitch
Anderson’s team is primarily juniors and freshmen — he has no seniors — but they have been able to meld their talents into a winning combination.
“They show up, they work hard and they are fun to be around,” Anderson said. “There are a lot of personalities, and we talk about it a lot: what it takes to be successful. It’s something you have to do on a regular basis. They are a tight-knit group of kids.”
The Bears, who last year scored 22 goals as team the entire season, have outscored opponents 43-11 this year.
It’s a good start for Kiona-Benton, which has been to state three times (2009-11), losing in the first round each time.
“It has been fantastic,” Anderson said. “I have an absolutely amazing group of girls. I couldn’t be more proud of what they are going.”
Junior Madison Wheeler has been rock solid on defense for the Bears, while attacking midfielder Hunter Anderson, also a junior, has chipped in a dozen or so goals. But the main ingredient in Ki-Be’s recipe for success is freshman center-forward Ariel Lofton, who has scored 23 goals in 10 games.
“I have been a part of the junior group since they were 6 years old,” Anderson said. “I have been a part of this freshman group for four or five years. I knew Ariel was there. She is a talented player. We have a solid group around her that allows her to do what she does. We give her the ball in good places, and she does things on her own. The combination is pretty deadly. She delivers on a regular basis. What she is doing as a freshman is a pretty big deal.”
Last Thursday, the Bears lost a 4-1 match to Cascade (Leavenworth) from the Caribou Trail League, but Anderson said it was a match that let them know where they stand.
“They finished second at state last year,” Anderson said of the Kodiaks. “This was a litmus test for us.”