Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
PHOENIX — Every so often a man from Phoenix High School's maintenance department updates the record board at the east end of the school's gymnasium.
That man is Randy Kirkland.
The wall gives players something to shoot for, the girls basketball coach says.
Kirkland will return to the east end to post the name Baylee Toney at the end of the season. In four years, he's coached Toney as she grew from a former ballerina who only played so she could have a nose ring to one of the greatest players Kirkland has ever encountered.
It won't be the first time that Kirkland has placed the senior forward's name on the board. She broke the single-game rebounding record (23) and single-season rebounding record (263) last winter. It will be the last time he places her name on the board, and for the most significant of achievements: the 18-year-old Toney set the career record for rebounds on Dec. 17 at South Umpqua and is 36 rebounds away from eclipsing her single-season mark with four regular-season games remaining.
In between the record and now, she's crushed the previous career record of 625 boards by Kat Cox with her 816.
"She's in a world of her own," Kirkland says.
Toney isn't the tallest (she is 5-foot-71/2), strongest or fastest, but she's always been the best at corralling the basketball.
"She kind of has that ability that you don't really teach," Kirkland says. "Anticipation, getting in the right spot from where the ball is shot and that real determination."
The co-captain is averaging 12.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.1 steals per game this year for Phoenix (16-4). The Pirates are 5-1 in the Skyline Conference.
Kirkland says about five or six of Toney's rebounds each night are offensive.
"She just tries to read where the shots are being taken," Kirkland says of Toney, who often plays 31 minutes. "A lot of times she'll be the one who comes up with it in a group of five girls."
The trick, Toney says, is not to over-think it.
"People would say you have to be really technical," Toney says. "If that were the case, I don't think I would hold the record. Sometimes I just have to chase the ball down. For the most part, it's just desire."
And she's not afraid to get her hands dirty, she says.
"A lot of girls tell me they don't like rebounding," says Toney, who hopes to play college ball. "I love it. My coaches say I'm smiling when I get a rebound."
Toney grabbed her 23 rebounds against Klamath Union during the league playoffs last season. The previous school record was shared by Tiffany Ross and Wendy Hansen.
The previous single-season record holder was Jaclyn Unruh with 252.
Of course, it's one thing to make history and another to document it. Kirkland has had three sharp assistants on staff each of his eight years as head coach. This year they are David Alexander, Katie Rhodes and Lonna Engle. It is Rhodes' duty in particular to chart rebounds, Kirkland says. They all help track statistics during contests and double-check numbers.
Toney was much more interested in ballet early in her life. She started dancing in the first grade and didn't stop until the summer entering her freshman year. She played basketball one year in middle school.
Her mom Nikki played for Phoenix, once pulling down 19 rebounds in a contest.
Nikki (who is about an inch taller) wanted Baylee to carry on the tradition, Baylee says.
"She bribed me," Toney says. "I said I would try out if I could get my nose pierced. I think part of it was that she had so much fun playing and was successful and she wanted me to experience that."
The two agreed, and the rest is history.
Three games into her freshman year, Toney earned a starting spot.
"After seeing her athleticism, we decided to move her up and put her in," Kirkland recalls. "... At some point during her freshman year she realized she could be a good rebounder."
The balance that Toney learned as a ballerina didn't transfer over right away, Kirkland recalls.
"She was clumsy and falling around," he says.
But things just kept getting better. Toney averaged five rebounds her first year and led Phoenix with 8.5 boards per night her sophomore season. That mark bumped up to 10.5 her junior campaign.
All those boards have earned her a few spots on the big board.