Vale girls varsity basketball coach Jason Johnson signals to his team during a game earlier this season. Johnson was named the Eastern Oregon League coach of the year recently. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
VALE – By early January the prospects for the Vale girls varsity basketball team appeared bleak.
A 50-28 non-league loss to Baker translated into a 2-6 record for the Lady Vikings and their opening league game – against perennial Eastern Oregon League powerhouse Burns – loomed a week away.
Then, Vale dominated Weiser 55-40 Jan. 14 in a non-league contest and started on an 11-game win streak – including a 36-32 victory over the Hilanders – on the way to the league title.
Coach Jason Johnson, the man who guided the Vikings through their spectacular win streak, said the victory run was all about his players.
“To kind of right that ship, the kids did a really good job. It would have been easy at that point to get discouraged and they managed not to,” said Johnson.
Vale’s 10-0 league mark was recognized two ways. First, the team scooped up a pile of all-league accolades. Second, Johnson was named the Eastern Oregon League coach of the year.
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The honor, though, didn’t shift Johnson’s attention away from his players. While he said he was grateful for the coach of the year honors, he felt more relaxed emphasizing the accomplishments of his team.
“You are lucky to have good kids who play hard. So (coach of the year) is nice but the nicer thing would be getting this group of kids to the state tournament,” said Johnson.
Johnson did not need to worry. The Lady Vikings defeated Oregon Episcopal in a first-round playoff game to qualify for the state basketball tournament in North Bend. Last week Vale finished off the season with a fourth place finish at the state tournament.
Johnson said the turning point for his team arrived during its early win over Burns.
“The day we beat Burns, the kids came to the realization we are all right and they started believing in what they were doing,” said Johnson.
Johnson, who coached the Vikings for 16 years, isn’t a stranger to success. He helped guide Vale to three state championships, including back-to-back crowns in 2011 and 2012.
Johnson said his philosophy as a coach is basic.
“We want to be a hard-playing team. If you are better than us, we will try to work harder than you. We’ve had a lot of success with that recipe,” said Johnson.
The 2020 edition of the Vale varsity basketball team delivered a balanced, flexible attack, said Johnson.
“We are versatile and that is one of our strengths. We are able to play fast or slow and methodical. You can win with defense and we definitely, from the start, preach that,” said Johnson.
Johnson, who is a local rancher, said Vale’s balanced attack pays dividends.
“Honestly that is difficult to defend. Because we pretty well have five kids that are capable of scoring all the time. A lot of teams maybe have two. Our kids also pass the ball well and execute well,” said Johnson. Johnson said Vale’s success also counts on “good assistant coaches who have stepped in.”
“By and large our game plan doesn’t change a lot. We may tweak an offense but defensively our game plan is basically the same – man-to-man defense,” he said. Johnson said there is no secret to success.
“It’s just good kids playing hard. And a lot of really smart kids on this team,” he said.
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