MERIDIAN—When the Owyhee girls basketball team gathered for an open gym the first time in June 2021, there weren’t enough players to field a full team.
Meeting at Star Middle School—as Owyhee High was still being completed for a fall opening—just four players showed up for the first official team gathering. Three of them were incoming freshmen.
“I remember waking in that first day of open gym and thinking ‘What am I getting myself into,” said sophomore Josie Davis, one of the four players to show up that day. “I was a little nervous at first, and a little hesitant.”
It may have been the humblest of beginnings for Owyhee, but a year and a half later, the program has built itself into a 5A Southern Idaho Conference contender.
Mixing an array of players who had been rivals at various middle schools in the West Ada School District, the Storm (13-2 overall, 6-1 SIC) find themselves in the midst of a championship chase as the regular season enters its final weeks.
“It’s definitely had its ups and downs, but it’s been a fun journey,” said sophomore Mikale Roy, another one of the original four. “It was tough because we were so young and I’m a scrawny little freshman playing against the biggest seniors who have played for four years. But it was a good learning experience.”
The Storm have an opportunity to make a couple of statements over the next week, starting with a game today at Timberline, the defending state champion. After that, Owyhee will host Boise, the preseason SIC favorits which has yet to lose a conference game this season, on Thursday.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot, but Christmas is the time when everyone just kind of hits a wall,” said Owyhee coach Jordan Ax. “It happens everywhere and there’s only going to be three or four teams in each conference that break through that wall and start going on an upwards projection. We’re just hoping to be one of those four teams. ... The next two games just show where we are at.”
Owyhee’s girls team didn’t come in with the fanfare of the boys team, which featured multiple surefire NCAA Division I recruits and won a state title in its first season, but the girls still were able to build a base to grow the program around last year.
In the third game of the 2021-22 season, Owyhee stayed competitive through the game with Timberline, a team that featured two Northern Arizona signees, before the Wolves pulled away late for a 49-38 win.
“I think we turned them over 27 times,” Ax said. “(Timberline coach) Andy Jones and his club always take care of the ball, so it drove them nuts. It ended up being 11 points out of reach, but it was a scare. And those little victories for this young group was everything.”
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Owyhee won five of its first six games that season, but eventually the young team did end up hitting that Christmas wall. Owyhee finished the season 14-13, missing a state playoff berth by one game and losing a play-in game to Post Falls.
Davis was a second-team all-conference selection, while Roy and then-junior Emma Atchley were both named honorable mention.
“The pressure, you definitely felt it,” Davis said about being such a young team. “But you were like ‘if I forget about that and do what I know best, I can be just as good as them, or I can be better than them as freshmen.’ That’s what really pushed us.”
As Owyhee prepared for year two, it got another boost in the summer, this time in the form of a first-team all-conference player.
In August, the Storm added Sydnie Rodriguez, a transfer from Borah who already was holding Division I offers from the likes of Army, Southern Utah, Portland and Utah Valley. She’s a player Ax said was the “missing piece” from last season.
“I chose Owyhee because it was a fresh start,” said Rodriguez, who leads the team with 12.4 points per game. “They have great culture here and this team has been super welcoming. Going in I knew quite a few of them, so I knew this was going to be a fit for me and I’m going to have so much fun with them. I think I have made one of the greatest decisions to move over.”
But Rodriguez also knew that the move would come with a huge risk. She would need to get a transfer waiver from the Idaho High School Activities Association to be eligible to play this season. She was granted a waiver for the regular season, but not for the district and state tournament.
Rodriguez has an appeal with the IHSAA board scheduled for Tuesday in hopes to become eligible for the postseason.
“I’m super grateful with the 21 games that I got,” said Rodriguez. “I’m using every game to play my hardest, play my soul out. But to get this postseason and get a shot to run at the blue trophy means a lot, too. It would be a big thing, but we’re going to take it one step at a time, game-by-game, and roll with it.”
After Rodriguez, who again is only a junior, Owyhee’s next three leading scorers—Davis, Roy and Riley Beck—are all sophomores. Owyhee graduates just two seniors after this season, Emma Atchley and Bailey Brooks, so things could just be getting started for the Storm.
“I’m not surprised that it came together, because we’re best friends outside of the court,” Roy said. “When we get on the court, we’re having fun with each other and I think that helps strengthen our bond and our connections with each other.”