Chad Carpenter coached Willamette's boys for the last 11 seasons, leading them to six state playoff appearances.
Chad Carpenter coached Willamette's boys for the last 11 seasons, leading them to six state playoff appearances.

Since the Class of 2025 arrived at Willamette High School, expectations for the girls basketball team have skyrocketed.

And the Wolverines have delivered in the last three seasons, going 68-19 with three state tournament appearances, including a 6A semifinal run in 2024.

Now, as the senior-led group prepares for a final run at a state championship, the team is adjusting to a new coach in Chad Carpenter, who has replaced Danielle McBride. As Willamette's boys coach for the last 11 seasons, Carpenter is no stranger to the girls team.

“It's nice that I've kind of been around them,” said Carpenter, a 2001 Willamette graduate. “I haven't coached them directly, but I've been around their program. There's a little bit of a connection with the girls there already. I think that helps a little bit.”

This summer, Carpenter has coached the Wolverines in tournaments at Prairie (Wash.) and South Medford as well as the Section 7 event in Phoenix, Ariz., a high-profile college showcase. They have gone 10-2, splitting four games at Section 7.

Willamette has a tried and true winning formula. But Carpenter said the team is looking to “do a few things differently” than it has in the past.

“I think with how talented they are, and how smart of basketball players they are, we want to give them a few more options,” Carpenter said. “Especially looking down the road at the state tournament, you look at some of the top teams in the state, kind of preparing ourselves to play against those teams.”

With the entire roster eligible to return from a team that finished 21-9, Willamette will enter next season as a legitimate 6A title contender.

The Wolverines feature two Southwest Conference first-team selections in 6-foot senior guard Brynn Smith (18.6 points last season) and 6-0 junior forward Isabella Harms (16.4 points).

Smith and three other seniors – guard Victoria Nguyen and forwards Harper Wagner and Maddy Warberg – have started since they were freshmen. Smith and Warberg have committed to Portland and Nevada, respectively.

The Wolverines have a big obstacle in the Southwest Conference in reigning state champion South Medford, which beat them in all three meetings last season, including 46-43 in the state semifinals. Willamette's other two in-state losses last season were against Clackamas, the 2023 state champion.

South Medford and Clackamas will be loaded again next season, but the Wolverines won't be selling themselves short.

“The realistic expectation is to try to go win a league title and try to compete for a state title,” Carpenter said. “I don't think we should be afraid to talk about that. I don't think we're the favorites, either. I think South Medford is better right now, and I think there are a few teams at the state level that are better right now. But it's definitely a goal that I think is achievable for this group.”

Carpenter said a focus for the offseason is getting more from the bench. He sees the Ireland sisters – 6-2 sophomore Aaliyah and 5-11 senior Jadynn – playing bigger roles.

“We need to build that depth a little more with this group,” Carpenter said. “You could see it in some of those big games, they just looked like they kind of ran out of gas towards the end.”

Carpenter went 114-147 during his tenure as Willamette's boys coach. He led the Wolverines to six playoff appearances and their first state trophy, a fifth-place finish in 2019.

Carpenter said he planned to step away from the boys team by the time his oldest daughter – Addison, who is entering seventh grade – reached high school. When McBride resigned after going 111-87 in eight seasons, it accelerated his plan.

“I didn't necessarily set out to coach girls basketball … it just kind of worked out when the position became available,” Carpenter said. “It was a good time to switch.”

It's been a bonus to have the Willamette players become role models for both of his daughters: Addison, 12, and Emerson, 7.

“Some of the high school girls asked me, 'What are you most excited about on the girls side?'” said Carpenter, who has worked in sales and currently is a stay-at-home dad. “I think, selfishly, my girls getting to be around them and just have this great group to look up to, it's pretty special. This summer they've definitely made some new best friends with the high school girls.”