Emma Gibb is acutely aware of who she is in the world of Oregon high school basketball.
The 6-foot-2 junior post from Western Mennonite has been the catalyst for the Pioneers’ rise to prominence in the state, and not only at the Class 2A level.
She plays with a rare physicality for a girl and has a lot of bruises on her knees to prove it … oh, and she’s fouled out of more games than you would think.
But off the basketball court she’s the opposite.
She is an easy-going teenager, a prankster who will hide anything she can find that belongs to assistant coach Mike Woodard or put up embarrassing photos of teammates on the walls of the school.
“It’s just her personality,” sophomore teammate Madi Hull said. “Everyone likes to be around her. You know when she has a good game. She has good games all the time, but everyone’s always supportive of her.
“No one’s mad when she has a big game or upset when she gets first team or whatever. Everyone wants to support her. That’s what it is is her personality and the way she helps us.”
Though Western Mennonite (1-0 Tri-River Conference, 8-4 overall) has made history in Gibb’s first two years at the school – they reached the state semifinals for the first time in 2013 and state championship game for the first time last season – the team’s foil has been Tri-River Conference rival Regis.
In the past two years the Pioneers are 3-5 against the five-time defending state champion Rams.
While Western Mennonite has won its share of games against the Rams, Regis won the ones that mattered most – 47-32 in the 2013 state semifinals and 36-29 in the 2014 state championship game.
Western Mennonite plays Regis for the first time this season in Stayton at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 13.
“I guess that was kind of the game we prepare for,” said Gibb, who has attended Western Mennonite since sixth grade. “We’re all very excited, but until we win the big one, we’re kind of the underdog. I don’t necessarily want to be the underdog, but we are one.
“It’s a new year, new opportunities, new chances. I feel like my team can only get better this year. I feel like if we’re going to have a year to do it, this is one of our best chances. I’m excited, looking forward to it.”
Though Gibb has played basketball as long as she can remember, she said the biggest jump in her development came when she played for a travelling team coached by Western Mennonite boys coach Gary Hull starting in the seventh grade.
Though she had always been good at playing basketball – that kind of thing happens when you’re always the tallest girl on your team – she lacked fundamentals.
A lot of them.
“I remember the first practice she couldn’t dribble two balls,” Gary Hull said. “There was so much skillwise that they just really needed a foundation.”
Ever since her first game in a Western Mennonite jersey, Gibb has been putting up big statistics, and the players around her have elevated their games accordingly.
Where Western Mennonite had previously been known for its boys basketball team’s success, the broad shoulders of Gibb have carried the program to a higher level.
“You have a 6-2 girl that is getting a lot of college looks,” Western Mennonite coach Robby Gilliam said. “It’s making people ask where Western Mennonite School is.
“I can’t tell you how many people have driven out here for a game that have never been out here for a game before and they’ll come into our gym and they’re surprised how far it is and how long it takes to get out here. She’s really brought a profile to our program.”
Largely based on Gibb’s profile, Western Mennonite was invited to play in the Nike Interstate Shootout, the most prestigious preseason girls basketball tournament in the state.
The Pioneers went 1-3 with their only win against Tigard in a consolation bracket game, but Gibb was selected second-team all-tournament.
It was the biggest challenge she got this year.
“I was very happy, yeah,” she said. “I loved just the different style of play. It’s definitely different than 2A. Refs let you play up there. All the girls, those 6A teams, they go 12 deep.
“Those are 12 girls that most of them play basketball year round so you sub and you’re playing against a girl who’s as fresh as a girl who just came off the court. It’s hard, but it was fun to play against those kinds of athlete. It was challenging.”
On Sept. 1, the college coaches started calling.
She’s being recruited by programs at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels, and there is no doubt she has the ability to play at the highest level.
“I don’t think you can prepare for your September first of your junior year if you’re an athlete that’s going to play college ball, that wants to play college ball,” Gibb said.
“That first day I got a couple phone calls and a couple messages, and I am just like overwhelmed because it’s crazy to think to think that now there are college coaches talking to you who want you to come play for them. That’s been a completely different experience.”
She’s as high profile a recruit to come out of the school, ranking with Travis Derchowski, who played in college at Montana State.
“She’ll be the most decorated girl to come out of this school,” Gary Hull said. “It’s really fun. Love her to death. She’s a great kid. We’ll see what happens.”
For her career, Gibb is averaging a double-double, 15.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. This season she is averaging a career-best 16.6 points per game along with 14.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
Gibb’ big numbers are quantified on statistic sheets, but her value is felt in different ways.
“Not only does she carry us points wise, rebounds wise, but she holds us together as a team,” Madi Hull said. “She’s the team mom. She takes care of everything. She’s someone everyone relies on.
“She’s someone everyone wants to help out. She’s always been there for us. She really does help this team be a team.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler