The wall displays inside the Walla Walla High School gymnasium reflecting successes of the school’s athletic teams suggests a storied Blue Devil past.
But the lack of placards under the girls basketball column prior to the 2014-15 season spotlighted a quarter-century drought.
Wa-Hi’s program last played in the state tournament in 1990.
But with seniors Mikayla Ferenz, Madi Doepker, Maddie Sirmon, Kate Ferenz, Kendall Davis and Grace Kennedy on the 2014-15 roster — supported by Kate Hogan, Faith and Lauren Hoe and Whitney Enriquez — that was about to change.
“We had a group of seniors that had played together for a long time,” former Blue Devil coach Chris Ferenz said. “I coached them in AAU as eighth graders.
“Katie blossomed, and Faith and Lauren were enthusiastic and coachable,” he remarked. “Faith and Lauren helped as freshmen — which is not easy to do.”
Seeds for success were planted during the summer, Ferenz said.
“We went to a camp at Gonzaga Prep,” he said. “We had everybody together and played Sunnyside, Gonzaga Prep, and Boise.
“It was the first time the girls collectively” understood “how hard they had to work.
“It was a chance for some kids that hadn’t played much to grow,” Ferenz said. “We carried that into the season.”
Davis “grew the most over the summer,” he said.
The Blue Devils’ first regular-season objective was clear.
“We started with trying to win the league championship,” Ferenz said. “We really wanted to play in the (Tacoma) Dome. We practiced each day (wanting to) do the things needed to play in the Tacoma Dome.”
Negotiating to the top of the Mid-Columbia Conference standings would not be easy, Ferenz said.
“Chiawana and Kamiakin were strong and the teams to beat,” Ferenz said. “They were teams the girls had battled. Chiawana was a nemesis. They were at the top of the conference for a long time.”
Another problem the Blue Devils faced was long-term — having to possibly get past the likes of Central Valley, Gonzaga Prep, and Moses Lake on the way to a successful year and Tacoma, Ferenz said.
“The east side was so strong every year,” Ferenz said.
Wa-Hi suffered an early jolt when Davis “got hurt in the preseason and didn’t play until late January,” Ferenz said.
But Kennedy “started early until Kendall got healthy,” he said.
Mikayla Ferenz, Doepker and Sirmon “could really score,” coach Ferenz said.
The Blue Devils’ firepower was on full display in a non-league game with Pendleton.
“We knew how good we were offensively,” Ferenz said. “We had 31 points in the first quarter and nine assists.”
Another signature moment in the league-winning season was a win at Chiawana.
“It’s a hard place to win,” Ferenz said. “Whitney hit a couple of big shots. It (the victory) was needed to develop some confidence.”
The Blue Devils bested the Riverhawks for the district title.
“The kids played terrific,” Ferenz said. “We got up 14 early. They cut it to eight, but we hit shots in the fourth quarter and buried them late. It’s the first net the girls got to cut down.”
The Blue Devils lost the regional title game to defending state champion Gonzaga Prep, but edged Central Valley the following night.
“Gonzaga Prep got up eight in the second quarter and we couldn’t get over the hump,” Ferenz said. “The Central Valley game went back and forth. We got a big shot from Maddie Sirmon down the stretch off an offensive rebound.
“Mikayla fouled out with two minutes to go,” he said, “so Faith played point guard. She got the ball where it needed to be and defended well.”
Kate Ferenz made two free throws with eights seconds left to put the Blue Devils over the top.
“The student section showed up en masse,” Ferenz said. “A lot of people supported us.”
Wa-Hi beat Wenatchee to advance to the final eight in the Tacoma Dome.
“The girls were focused,” Ferenz said. “They enjoyed playing hard and representing Walla Walla High School.”
First up at state was Todd Beamer, a team that possessed four NCAA Division I-caliber players, Ferenz said.
“We played against a lot of those kids in AAU,” he remarked. “It was a good game, but we got into foul trouble and they hit some shots.”
The Blue Devils won their next two games against Bothell, 49-45, and Bellarmine Prep, 63-49, to ascend to fourth place.
“The kids wanted it more than Bothell,” Ferenz said. “We made sure we were going to make the most of our opportunity.
“We wanted a fourth-place trophy,” he said. “It was a great team effort (versus Bellarmine Prep). The girls were on a mission.”
And because the mission was accomplished, league, district and state placards are on the Wa-Hi gym wall for all to see.
The Blue Devils ended up 23-4.
“It was a great group to coach,” Ferenz said. “Good kids and students who supported each other. They embraced the opportunity in front of them. They embraced the moment.”