It had been nearly two years since Taya McCallum last played in a W.F. West girls’ basketball game.
As a sophomore, she helped the Bearcats win the 2018 Class 2A state championship. Two months or so after the team cut down the nets in the Yakima SunDome however, McCallum suffered a devastating injury.
“I had her in class that year and I can remember her coming into the classroom after it happened just broken up that she couldn’t play,” said first-year W.F. West head coach Kyle Karnofski. “This sport means a lot to her.”
As does this program.
McCallum, who came off the bench in the title game two years ago and scored 3 points and grabbed 2 rebounds, got her first taste of W.F. West basketball in kindergarten when she first attended the program’s youth summer basketball camps.
She failed to miss a day of camp throughout her elementary school years and was a constant at Bearcat home games growing up.
“This program is very important to me,” McCallum said. “It’s who I wanted to play for since I was a little kid in the Little Dribblers camp. It’s always meant a lot to me.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a high school girls’ basketball team in the state which suffered more key injuries to its lineup last year than W.F. West.
The Bearcats entered the season with hopes of successfully defending their state championship, but injuries quickly piled up. After McCallum was lost, W.F. West saw a handful of other contributors go down, none bigger than current Portland State player Erika Brumfield, who was a first-team all-2A Evergreen Conference pick the previous year as a junior.
Despite all the obstacles, the Bearcats still managed to advance to the state tournament for the eighth time over the last nine years, coming within one game of collecting its eighth trophy over that span.
“There’s a lot of what-ifs about last year,” McCallum said. “This was a team coming off a state championship and what if everyone was healthy?”
It would be easy for McCallum to dwell on such a hypothetical question, but she hardly has time for that. She’s too busy guiding their year’s team during her senior season. “I was out for 13 months. It was terrible,” McCallum said. “It just means so much to be back out playing the sport I love. I was determined to get back out there.”
The Bearcats will rely heavily on its three seniors – McCallum, Maggie Vadala and Annika Waring this season.
“We’re all about leading the team and keeping everyone together,” McCallum said. “We want to encourage those underclassmen to take over when we leave. We’re determined to take back that state championship and get back to the dome.”
All three played in the Bearcats’ 64-52 win over Archbishop Murphy in the 2018 state championship game with Vadala, a 5-foot-9 point guard, and Waring, a 5’ 10” forward, both starting last season.
“They’ve been unreal all season for us,” Karnofski said about his senior trio. “All summer we put that leadership role on them. That was something they took to heart. It’s their senior year. They want to be good. They expect to be good. It’s sort of the standard that Chehalis has built and they’re doing a great job.”
Waring averaged 10 points a game as a junior and earned first-team all-2A Evergreen Conference honors, while Vadala averaged 5.2 points a contest and was named second-team all-conference.
“They’re all different in what they do,” Karnofski said. “Annika is our emotional leader. It’s kind of her style. She’s a little loud out there but in a good way. Maggie runs the show on offense. She’s our point guard, very heady. And Taya is our leader on defense. They all have a really good purpose and they all know their role, and they really buy into that.”
Also back is sophomore Drea Bumfield, the team’s leading scorer from last year at 13.2 points a game and a first-team all-conference selection.
Additional returning players include juniors Tehani Henry, Maliyah Lockwood and Madi Mencke and sophomores Kyla McCallum, Makayla Mencke and Lexi Roberts.
“We have a few starters back, but we’re still pretty young,” Karnofski said. “We have a lot of players who are in new roles. It’s a lot different going from coming off the bench late in a game when it’s already decided to playing important minutes, but we’re getting there as a team. And for someone like Taya, who hasn’t played since her sophomore year, we’re asking her to jump in there and be our leader on defense. She’s really done an incredible job.”
The Bearcats will begin 2020 on the road at Kingston on January 4 before heading to rival Black Hills on January 8 to open their EvCo schedule.