Coach Bill Schimel (right) and the Cardinals celebrate after beating Astoria in the final of the Seaside Holiday Classic.
Coach Bill Schimel (right) and the Cardinals celebrate after beating Astoria in the final of the Seaside Holiday Classic.

A generation has passed since Corbett's boys basketball team set the Columbia River Gorge town on fire by winning back-to-back 2A championships in 1994 and 1995.

Now, a member of those teams is hoping to lead the school's girls basketball team to the top.

Second-year Cardinals coach Bill Schimel, who has three daughters on the team, has the Cardinals off to an 11-0 start and No. 3 ranking in the OSAAtoday 4A coaches poll. Three years removed from finishing 3-20, Corbett has been dominant, winning by an average margin of 29.9 points.

“It's been building, building,” Schimel said. “We didn't know how good they'd be, but we had a pretty good feeling they'd make a decent run this year. It might even be a little better than what we were thinking.”

The Cardinals returned their entire starting lineup from last season, when they finished 9-4 and lost to Philomath 73-41 in the quarterfinals of the 4A Showcase.

The group includes a pair of outstanding sophomore guards in Ally Schimel (5-9) and Ella Holwege (5-7). Ally Schimel averages 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals. Holwege contributes 12 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“They're the two that elevated us to another level,” said Bill Schimel, who assisted Rosalie Contri for two seasons before taking over as coach. “They just shoot it and handle the ball at a higher level. They play defense at a higher level. Getting those two added last season was one of those huge turnarounds for us.”

The Cardinals also have senior leadership with guards Sydney Schimel and Isabelle Van Hee and 6-foot post Grace Merrill. Van Hee and Sydney Schimel have been starters since they were freshmen.

“They remember the brutal years,” Bill Schimel said. “They remember the tough losses, and I think that has motivated them. The younger girls they play with have seen it, and it's really pushed them.”

The guard-heavy team is deep with ballhandlers and shooters that can play multiple positions. Ally Schimel and Holwege are Corbett's best three-point shooters, and freshmen Taylor Donahue and Lilly Schimel also provide deep shooting off the bench.

“We hang our hat on defense, but when we get hot, all of them can shoot, and suddenly you're up 15,” Bill Schimel said.

The Cardinals have won all of their games by double digits. Their closest games are 11-point wins over Astoria in the final of the Seaside Holiday Classic and at 6A Sandy last week.

Corbett expects to battle with No. 4 Gladstone (8-1) for supremacy in the Tri-Valley Conference. The Cardinals, who lost both meetings against the Gladiators last season by a combined 11 points, play at Gladstone on Jan. 25.

“They've been our nemesis,” Bill Schimel said. “We're eager to play Gladstone. We've got a little special asterisk on that game.”

Bill Schimel and his wife, Kari, coached their three daughters through youth basketball. Kari was the head coach at Corbett for five seasons (2010-15), compiling a 58-70 record, and now serves as the team's scorekeeper.

Kari, who played on Lake Oswego's 1993 state title team before a college career at San Jose State, is the daughter of former Portland Trail Blazer Larry Steele. She is the fire marshal for Portland Fire & Rescue, where Bill is a lieutenant.

Bill and Kari – who also have a son, Cash, 9 – are hopeful to recapture the feeling of winning a state championship.

“It was such a great experience for me as a kid. I want to give that to my own kids,” Bill said. “Back in '94, '95, that community really got behind us. I think it helped to push us and make us the best team we could be.

“People still talk about it to this day. How special would that be to be a part of it again, and bring that same kind of spirit that we had back then to nowadays?”

Corbett was a girls basketball powerhouse in the 1980s, winning state titles in 1980 and 1987. The school hasn't won a state title in any sport since 1995, but the Cardinals are hoping to break the long dry spell.

“These girls have been eyeballing that since youth ball,” Bill Schimel said. “They come into the gym, and they look at the state titles. I like to point out mine, just so they see it. I like to remind them.

“In the back of their minds, they want league, they want to make a run in state. They want to make as much noise as possible because they've been on the other side, where we've been the cellar-dwellers.”