Fourteen seasons have come and gone since the Caldwell High girls basketball team won its only state championship.
Each of those 14 seasons have finished with a losing record.
The Cougars are five wins shy of matching their 19-win season from 2000-01, which they finished with the A-1 Division II state championship trophy.
At 14-5 overall and 6-2 in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference, this year’s Cougars are tied for a share of first place with Kuna and Bishop Kelly with two games remaining in the regular season. They are two wins away from surpassing their win total from the four previous seasons combined.
While Caldwell’s success may come as a surprise to the rest of the conference, the Cougars have been working toward a breakout season since William Rodgers took over as head coach last year.
“He cares. He really does deep down care about what he’s doing for our program. This year I really see it. It’s all coming together now, and it’s honestly been a great ride with him so far,” said senior guard Koralee Anderson-Bower, who has been on varsity for four years.
“We have nothing to lose. When I go out on the court, I think about all the people out there who think we are going to lose. It just makes me want to beat other teams even more, and I know that’s how my teammates think as well.”
The Cougars’ move up the standings hasn’t simply been about a change in play on the court. They’ve also had to make a change in attitude.
Playing in a conference that has produced five of the past six state champions can be defeating, especially when you’re at the bottom looking up.
Rodgers has put an emphasis on self belief and confidence. That starts by putting “we” before “me,” he said.
So instead of individual headshots hanging on the gym wall this season, the Cougars opted for a poster of the team bearing the theme for the season: Road to respect.
They’re earning it one game at a time.
“We’re going to win the hustle plays. We are going to get on the floor for everything,” Rodgers said. “We’re not going to let people push us around. We’re just scrappy, hard workers, and we’re starting to gain confidence, which is big.”
For the first time since joining the 4A SIC, the Cougars swept Middleton and Skyview this season. Their second win over Middleton on Jan. 21 was in front of a packed home gymnasium.
“I knew people thought Middleton was just going to come back and they were going to beat us,” senior guard Lissette Saenz said. “They thought it was just a one-time thing. Caldwell can’t do it again; they only won by two (points last time). But we beat them by 10 this time. I think that’s the most energy we’ve ever had, and that’s what we’re trying to carry on into these next two games before districts start.”
Caldwell’s final regular-season games are against the conference teams it hasn’t beaten this season — Bishop Kelly (15-4, 6-2) and Kuna (13-4, 6-2). The Cougars play at Kuna on Thursday and host Bishop Kelly on Tuesday. Both games tip off at 7:30 p.m.
If the Cougars win both games, they’d clinch the 4A SIC regular-season title and homecourt advantage throughout the district tournament. The top two teams advance to state Feb. 18-20 at Timberline High in Boise, while a third can qualify by winning a play-in game.
“Coming up, I heard, ‘Caldwell’s not the best.’ But last year, they were getting better. They were winning games. They were showing teams that they could compete. I could tell that I wanted to be a part of the program because they just didn’t give up,” said freshman guard Jalen Callender, who has worked her way into the starting lineup. “I could tell that this season was going to be a game-changer, and it was going to be the start of something new in the program.
“I believe that we can go to state, definitely. Just the way I’ve seen how we can play. I know that state isn’t just a dream, it’s actually something that is achievable. It’s a goal.”