On top of earning a coveted spot in the final eight of the state tournament, the Sky-Em girls basketball all-league lists were unsurprisingly littered with Lions.
At the end of every regular season, league coaches vote on end-of-year honors. Last week, they released the final tally for the 2019-20 Sky-Em season and the league champions were rewarded by having every one of their five starters named to an all-league team.
Junior Matty Ladd, sophomore Gracie Arnold and senior Ema Gardner — Cottage Grove’s three imposing six-footers — took three of the five places on the first-team list with Ladd also being named the league player of the year.
“I think it was well-deserved and the coaches in the league believe that, too,” said head coach Steve Eastburn of his star junior.
“She’s a real defensive presence for us with her size and a rebounding force. She just takes care of a lot of stuff for us.”
Ladd built on her resume she began last year when she also earned first-team honors as a sophomore.
But Ladd is far from the only important cog in the Lions’ structure and Gardner — a senior who is sometimes overlooked when teams key in on Ladd and Arnold — received recognition from around the league for the work she put in this season.
“As a sophomore she was second team all-league,” Eastburn said of Gardner. “Last season was kind of a disappointment for her. Before the season started one of her goals was to be first team all-league and she just really put her mind to it … She made the team better and the coaches agreed. That was a no-brainer for [us] when we voted on that.”
As for the sophomore Arnold, perhaps the most well-rounded member of the team when it comes to overall talent, Eastburn is optimistic about her potential as an upperclassmen, to say the least.
“Gracie is eventually going to be the player of the year in this league. Next year, after Matty graduates, who knows? But making first team speaks to the kind of year she had.”
Rounding out the accolades were senior Megan Schatz and junior Mikaela Blomquist who were both named to the honorable mention team with Blomquist also earning a place on the league’s all-defensive team.
“Like I told Mikaela, I think she’s the best point guard in the league,” Eastburn said. With a steady defensive intensity, an ability to initiate the Lions’ potent offense and elite ball protection skills, it’s a hard point to argue.
Schatz’s career as a Lion was a testament to the rewards of hard work. Unlike players like Ladd and Arnold, Schatz worked her way through the junior varsity teams before becoming a starter for the first time in her senior year. Throughout the season, Schatz’s perimeter shooting and level-headed play were indispensable to the Lions reaching their preseason goals.
The 2019-20 season isn’t yet over, as the Lions head to Forest Grove this week for the state quarterfinals, but with only two graduating seniors (Schatz and Gardner) and the return of Ladd, Arnold and Blomquist, Cottage Grove fans have permission to be excited for the near future.
On the boys’ side, three Cottage Grove players were recognized for their season despite struggling in league play. Sophomore Jayden Cameron was named to the all-league second team, senior Zach Anlauf to the honorable mention team and senior Daetryl Berry to the all-defensive team.