Coach-player relationship leaves its mark at Freeman
The thought hadn’t occurred to MacKenzie Taylor – never crossed her mind.
The Freeman post, the only senior on this year’s 20-1 team, heads off Wednesday morning to play in her fourth consecutive girls Class 1A state basketball tournament, something no other Scottie has done.
“I hadn’t even thought about it,” she said, the realization giving her pause. “But now that you mention it, I think I am. Wow, that’s pretty cool.”
As a freshman on the Freeman varsity, Taylor helped the team to a fifth-place state finish. A year later, she and her teammates placed third. Last year, they won it all and brought home the school’s first state championship trophy.
After taking a moment to tally up the years, Taylor arrives at a staggering career total.
“As a player, my record is 103 and 6,” she said. “In four years, I’ve only lost six games. And now we have just three games left and I want to win those, too.”
Still, it must be noted, that once the 2 p.m. quarterfinal game with Kings’ tips off Thursday in Yakima’s SunDome, MacKenzie Taylor will be one state tournament behind her sister, newly-married Freeman coach Ashlee Nimri.
As a Freeman senior in 2005, Ashlee Taylor was a starter and key player on a squad that earned the school’s first state tournament trophy after falling in the finals to Colfax. She was an assistant coach to Matt Gregg when the team went to state in 2008 and is in her third season as the team’s head coach.
That makes the Taylor sisters the most successful players in school history.
At small, close-knit communities, it’s not uncommon to see long lines of brothers and sisters troop through the various sports programs – often several programs in the same school year.
But having one sister coach another is rare. Ashlee and MacKenzie have made it work.
“I had a little trouble at first with the way she would talk to me,” MacKenzie said. “I couldn’t separate the coach from my sister for a while.”
“It was a little rough in the beginning,” Ashlee agreed. “We had to come to the agreement that, when we were on the basketball court, we weren’t sisters. I was the coach; she was the player. I had to check myself because there was a tendency for me to want to be harder on her than I was on everyone else and I didn’t want to do that.
“At first it was a challenge to maintain that separation because I was still going to school myself and I was living at home.”
Taylor guided the Scotties to a second-straight state tournament appearance her first season at the head of the bench, only the second time Freeman had made back-to-back state appearances.
Add to that the state championship they shared a year ago and you see the standard the Freeman sister act has set at the school.
This season, with the target of being a defending state champion plastered on their backs, the Scotties romped through an undefeated Northeast A League and, heading to Yakima, have only a loss to Cheney marring their season record – all accomplished with a team that featured just one senior on a roster that includes five freshman, one of them a starter in 5-foot-10 post Sierra McGarity.
Taylor, a 5-9 post herself, has expanded her repertoire, shifting into the backcourt to help stabilize a team that prides itself on defense, rebounding and limiting turnovers.
“At first it was a little uncomfortable for me because I’m not used to dribbling all that much,” she said. “But once I got used to it, I really enjoyed being able to get out and push the ball.”
With the end of the line awaiting them this weekend, the sisters both are pleased with the way things have worked out.
“Winning games certainly made it a lot easier for us,” MacKenzie laughed. “I believe in what my sister does as a coach. We all believe in her.”
Her sister feels the same about both her younger sister and her young basketball team.
“I missed out on playing on the same team with her and that would have been nice,” she said. “But I wouldn’t trade that experience for this one. I love being her coach and working with her the way I have. I’ve had the chance to watch her develop as a player and become the kind of person that she’s become.
“She’s been a great leader for us; a great team captain.”
State 1A quarterfinals
at Yakima SunDome
Game 1: Mabton (20-5) vs. Cascade Christian, 3:45 p.m.
G2: Nooksack Valley (17-9) vs. Granger (17-7), 5:30
G3: Zillah (21-5) vs. Onalaska, 7:15
G4: Vashon Island vs. Chelan (20-5), 9
Game 1: Connell (19-6) vs. Lynden Christian (22-3), 9 a.m.
G2: Seattle Christian vs.
La Salle (24-0), 10:30
G3: Granger (22-4) vs. Bellevue Christian, 12:15
G4: King’s (20-6) vs. Freeman (25-1), 2
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