Anna Mooney hasn’t seen a dynamic quite like the one developing within this year’s Seton Catholic girls basketball team, and specifically, its group of seniors.
“It’s really unique,” Mooney said, “because I’ve never been on a team with three leaders like this where we’re all different leaders, but it all just goes together so well.”
Those three — Keira Williams, Hannah Jo Hammerstrom and Mooney — became teammates at Seton Catholic this year for the first time in high school once Mooney enrolled at the school following three years at Camas High.
The trio first played basketball together on the same Camas Select team in middle school and have shared a friendship over many years. When they reunited this year, the team’s chemistry came together fast. The Cougars have a 13-1 record, are in first place of the 1A Trico League and have a chance to end the season as the most successful team in program history to date.
“It definitely clicked right away,” Williams said. “Especially with us three, we’ve played together, I’ve always known Anna and Hannah, we’ve always been pretty close friends. Even Anna coming in and just clicking with the team immediately. … I just think this year, there wasn’t really any trouble with us not getting along or not clicking. It just came pretty smooth.”
Their chemistry has developed through its seniors, which also includes Annie Marichalar, and spread to a group of freshmen and sophomores that make up approximately half of the roster.
In Williams, Hammerstrom and Mooney, the Cougars have three capable scoring threats who lead in their own ways.
Seton Catholic head coach Joe Potter describes them like this.
Hammerstrom is one of the team’s 3-point specialists who has an impeccable shooting form, according to Potter. Unofficially, she’s also the team mom.
“I don’t need a team mom because she takes care of everything,” Potter said. “Whether it’s on the court, off the court, she makes sure everybody is OK, everybody has got what they need.”
Williams, who splits point guard duties with Mooney, is the team’s 5-foot-6 enforcer, Potter said, a player with a competitive edge and spirit that sets the tone for the Cougars.
Mooney, by her own admission, has taken on a leadership role though somewhat deferred to Hammerstrom and Williams because they’ve been with the team longer. But from Potter’s point of view, Mooney, Seton Catholic’s leading scorer, has elevated everyone on the team with her play.
The three have found the right balance, because, well, they’re pretty familiar with each other.
“I feel like we read each other really well,” Hammerstrom said. “When one person’s game is on, we notice that, so we try to get (the ball) to that person who’s doing well that night. Just the chemistry between us three, we’re really good friends and to be able to read each other on the court has been super key to that.”
Seton Catholic opened in 2009 and had its own girls basketball program by 2011. Their best season, 2016-17, the Cougars went 15-4 and reached the 1A district tournament.
They’ve also had their fair share of challenging years. Potter, a former head coach at Battle Ground and Ridgefield, took over at Seton Catholic ahead of the condensed 2021 spring season. The Cougars went 1-9, prompting Potter to tear “the whole thing down” and start from scratch with a heavier emphasis on fundamentals while incorporating more skill-sets into drills.
“That’s never happened to me before, I know it’s never happened to coach Potter before,” Williams said of the 1-9 season. “That definitely stuck with me and I think that it always will.”
Hammerstrom, a four-year varsity player, and Williams, who transferred from Camas to Seton Catholic ahead of her sophomore year, were part of last year’s team that improved to 8-14 and made the district tournament for the second time in program history.
Then came the addition of Mooney. After playing for a pair of Class 4A state-championship caliber programs at Camas (girls soccer and basketball), Mooney was looking for a change of scenery — a community with a positive atmosphere that she could thrive in, she said.
Seton Catholic, a school of approximately 200 students, checked those boxes. Plus, she already knew some familiar faces like Hammerstrom, Williams and Phil Kent, the school’s athletic director and JV girls basketball coach.
“It just kind of all made sense and, honestly, it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Mooney said. “Because I’m so blessed to have done this. It’s just turned my life around. I’m in the happiest place I’ve been.”
After the three teamed up in the fall on Seton Catholic’s girls soccer team that made the state tournament for the first time in seven years, success carried over to basketball season.
Just last week, the Cougars beat Trico League foe La Center for the first time in program history. On Friday, they defeated rival King’s Way Christian to take sole possession of first place in the league standings.
A key part of the team is how well every player has bought in to their roles, which are openly discussed between coaches and players. While the majority of scoring falls on the three seniors, there are several others tasked with focusing on the little things: rebounding, defending and being steady on offense. Each role plays a part in the team’s success.
“We talk about that a lot within the team,” Hammerstrom said. “Knowing the people that are the scorers and those that are keeping energy up and all that stuff. That’s really important too.”
“It’s definitely important to us, and our coach makes every role feel important,” Williams added. “That’s what has made this season so fun and competitive. We all just mold so well together.”
Potter said he’s given this team more leeway and autonomy than any other group he’s coached in the past. When the team gets down or is dragging in games, it’s not unusual during huddles for Potter to ask Mooney, Williams or Hammerstrom their opinion on how the team should proceed.
“That really helps to include them and have ownership in the program, and they love that,” Potter said. “They know I’ll make the final decision, but I’ll listen to them at practice, I’ll listen to them in a game of what they feel comfortable with.”
As promising as the Cougars’ start to the season is, they’ve made a concerted effort to remain humble, focus on themselves and not look too far ahead.
After every game, Potter asks the team a simple question: can we get better?
The answer is always a resounding yes.
“It’s very much one step at a time, especially because there’s a lot of young people on this team,” Mooney said. “We don’t want to look too far ahead or get our hopes up. … We’re practicing as hard as we can every practice and that’s what I think is preparing us so well. Those games down the line, it’s what we did right now that’s going to lead us to that.”