If there is a Class 1A state tournament going on, chances are there is a team from Connell playing.
The Eagles have built an athletic tradition in all sports that is rarely seen, which is why when last year’s girls basketball team failed to advance to the state playoffs, it was so difficult to take.
“Last year was a major disappointment,” senior MarciAnne Hawkins said. “Finally being a starter and not being able to make it there, you feel like it is your fault a little bit. I think it is motivation too — to make it back.”
And the Eagles did just that, earning their fifth trip to Yakima in the last six seasons. They will face Castle Rock at 9 a.m. Thursday at the SunDome in Yakima.A big part of the Eagles’ success has been the play of Hawkins, a shooting guard, and her best friend and fellow starter Kody Easterday, a wing.
Beyond their stellar on court play — Hawkins is averaging 11 points, five assists, five steals and six rebounds per game, while Easterday averages 9.8 points and five rebounds per contest — they also are team jokesters, keeping practices and tense moments light.
From making fun of coach Kameron Jenks’ bald head, to arguing about who are the real Ginja Ninjas — a reference to their red hair — to telling stories about shoes falling off during games or the time Hawkins tripped and fell on the stage at her sixth-grade graduation, the pair is constantly laughing.
“I’m a believer that if kids aren’t having fun in high school, or they don’t like their coach, they won’t play,” Jenks said. “But I have to get after them sometimes. There is a time for joking and a time to be serious.”
The duo has been plenty serious on the court over the years.
They both have been on varsity all four seasons and will go to the state tournament for the third time. Both are multi-talented athletes — Hawkins plays soccer and softball, while Easterday plays soccer and rodeos. They both live on farms in Basin City, a tiny town about 30 minutes outside of Connell, and they have been best friends since kindergarten.
“(MarciAnne) is one of the shortest players, but she always finds a way to get the ball,” said Easterday, a senior. “We call her Sneaky Marci, because she is a sneaky little devil on the court.
“She is aggressive. For how small she is, she is one one of the most aggressive players we have.”
Easterday has a bit more size than Hawkins and can play multiple positions, giving the Eagles some versatility.
“She is really good at seeing the floor and running the floor,” Hawkins said of her friend. “She knows when we are better than the defenders and how to go at them. She is really good at attacking the other team’s weakness.”
Their strong play has paid off in another trip to the state tournament, and this time they are hoping to at least make the state title game. They took sixth place their freshman and sophomore years.
No matter how deep they go, though, they will be continuing that state tournament tradition, which is something they embrace.
“I think it is a good thing,” Hawkins said. “You want to be a part of that tradition. I’ve grown up watching sports and knowing they are good. It is your responsibility to keep it going. You don’t want to be the one to mess it up.”
And even with all the jokes, the falling down on stage and having shoes fall off on courts, they have continued that winning tradition.