Klahowya raises expectations after turnaround season

Don Farrell isn’t quite satisfied.

The head coach of the Klahowya Secondary School girls basketball team has orchestrated a turnaround for a program that went winless two seasons ago. The Eagles were once the joke of the school after finishing 0-20 in 2008, but Farrell has since changed the conversation.

Farrell led the Eagles to a 10-12 record last season, their best finish in years, after winning four games in their previous three seasons. No longer the perennial punching bag of the Olympic League, Klahowya’s expectations have only elevated as the team’s record improves each year.

“We’re not going to be happy until we’re better than a .500 team,” Farrell said. “We need to be competitive with teams like Port Angeles and Kingston, and it’s got to be a continuing process.”

Farrell’s Eagles missed a winning season by just two victories last year, which some believed was once improbable. Now, the fourth-year head coach has his team preparing to challenge the rest of the league. Senior post player Jonica Durbin said it’s surprising to see the program’s progress, considering its lowest point three seasons ago when Klahowya rode a 56-game losing streak.

“I didn’t think I would ever get to this point,” she said.

Durbin was a freshman when Klahowya lost every game during Farrell’s first year with the team. Back then, the Eagles were jokingly teased by students, and even Durbin herself. The senior post player enrolled at Klahowya with low expectations for the last-place Eagles.

“I just remember coming here and thinking, ‘Oh, so I’m going to be on a losing team,’” she said.

After two straight seasons of increasing their win totals, the pressure is on Farrell and the team to eclipse 10 victories this season, and it won’t be easy.

Klahowya has recently struggled against league powerhouses Port Angeles and Kingston high schools. And Klahowya’s path to the postseason is more uncertain now that North Kitsap High School, Olympic High School and Port Angeles have merged with the Eagles in the Class 2A Olympic League.

The schedule will remain mostly intact, but spots for the district tournament will be harder to earn in a more jam-packed 2A class. Farrell said Port Angeles will likely win the league this season, while Klahowya will battle for a spot in the middle of the pack.

But the Eagles already know what they’re up against, and they’re up for the challenge, Farrell said.

“Schools like Port Angeles and Kingston have all the money, donations and boosters to provide those programs,” he added. “We don’t get that here, so it would be great to be competitive with teams like that.”

Klahowya finished last season with a 60-50 defeat to Fife High School at the Class 2A West Central District tournament. The team lost both regular season meetings to Port Angeles, Kingston and Olympic in blowouts, but managed to stay competitive with Bremerton High School. The Eagles earned wins against North Mason High School, Sequim High School and North Kitsap High School, which allowed them to nearly break even for the year.

Now comes the hard part.

Klahowya, which starts the season at home Nov. 30 against Chimacum High School, will be faced with the challenge of breaking a losing tradition, and finally cracking a spot amongst the league’s best.

The Eagles will put a young team on the court this season, filled with mostly guards. Farrell is preaching “tough-nosed” defense as a top priority in practice, and he said his squad will be fine as long as they stick to fundamentals.

One issue of concern for Farrell is a lack of presence in the post, which is mostly vacant with the exception of Durbin. The team will need to fill the void left by Jessica Drake and Carly McElwee, who both graduated last year.

Jordan Dixon, Melissa Burleson and Jolyn Bowling join Durbin as returning seniors. Quincy Rouse, a transfer from Crosspoint Academy, will also join the team this season to add depth.

The junior-varsity team also has transfers from Crosspoint. Farrell said Klahowya had its largest tryout for girls basketball in recent history two weeks ago. For the first time in his coaching stint, Farrell had to make cuts. He said it’s taken only a few wins to get fans excited.

Farrell was not hesitant to smile when asked about the change in the girls basketball culture at Klahowya. He’s inspired his team to believe and stay focused, regardless of how many games are lost, senior guard Bowling said.

“He’s showed us that we have the ability to turn this program around,” she said. “He’s told us not to get discouraged or down after losing so many games, and now we’re here.”

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