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Kassie O’Neil (far left) is the new CHS JV girls basketball coach. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

She’s changing gyms but remains a Wolf forever.

After a year with the Coupeville Middle School girls basketball program, Kassie O’Neil is crossing the hallway and joining the high school coaching staff.

One of the hardest-working Wolves to ever grace the hardwood back when she was dropping daggers, O’Neil is the new JV girls hoops coach for CHS.

She joins a program headed up by varsity coach Megan Smith and replaces Greg Turcott, who moved to Eastern Washington.

O’Neil’s hiring was confirmed Friday by Coupeville Athletic Director Willie Smith and will be official after school board approval.

The new girls JV coach once played on the same court where she’ll now pass on wisdom to a new generation.

Killer Kassie (second from left), during her playing days.

Part of a highly successful athletic family which includes siblings Kayla, Katie, and Kurtis, Killer Kassie was a hustler and a scrapper, a rebound and pass-first basketball player with an uncanny knack for draining big-time shots.

She cracked the CHS varsity basketball team near the end of her freshman season, making her debut with the top squad at the state tournament.

O’Neil, now a mother of a pack of boys, became a varsity captain in later seasons, topping the Wolves in rebounds and assists.

She also delighted in making the richniks at King’s shed sweet, sweet tears, twice knocking down buzzer-beating three-balls against the highly ranked Knights.

After high school, O’Neil played basketball at Whatcom Community College.

Now, as she preps for her newest challenge, she’s sky-high.

“I am so excited,” O’Neil said.

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Kassie (Lawson) O’Neil (right), here with sister Katie Smith, is back in the Coupeville gym, this time as a coach.

A heart of gold, but ice water in her veins.

One of the hardest-working Wolves to ever grace the hardwood, Kassie (Lawson) O’Neil delighted in destroying the dreams of ritzy private schools, and now she’s back to pass on knowledge to a new generation of hoops stars.

During her own school days, she was a hustler and a scrapper, a rebound and pass-first basketball player who also had an uncanny knack for draining big-time shots.

Now she’s the latest former Wolf to move into the coaching ranks at their alma mater, thanks to a decision to accept a gig working with the Coupeville Middle School girls basketball program.

O’Neil and Kristina Forbes, who kick off practice for a new season Monday, will be official when the school board approves their hires at its next meeting.

Having joined fellow CHS alums on the sidelines, O’Neil is ready to get to work.

“I am elated to begin coaching the Coupeville Middle School basketball team,” she said. “Mainly because that’s where my deep love for the game began.”

O’Neil debuted as a player in the same gyms where she’ll now coach, joining the basketball program when she hit 7th grade at CMS.

“My friends convinced me to try sports and I immediately fell in love with it and played any chance I could,” O’Neil said.

“Outside of our regular season, I played with the high school girls so that I could improve by playing against really outstanding players, such as the Black sisters — Lexie and Britt Jennifer Bailey, and Beth Mouw,” she added.

“These were the Coupeville stars I looked up to and tried to emulate in my early years.”

O’Neil, whose siblings — Kayla Lawson, Katie Smith, and Kurtis Smith — all joined her in successful runs as Wolf athletes, immediately showed a high degree of skill.

She cracked the varsity team near the end of her freshman season, making her actual debut with the top squad at the state tournament.

“Mind you, it was only the last few minutes of the game,” O’Neil said. “But man, it felt HUGE!”

Kassie (second from left, back row) during her high school days.

Continuing to pour her energy into the game, she became a varsity captain in later seasons, topping the Wolves in rebounds and assists.

“Passing has always been my thing!” O’Neil said with a big smile.

But while she was always looking to set her teammates up for success, she wasn’t afraid to step up and make rival teams miserable.

Especially if they hailed from ritzy private schools like King’s.

O’Neil twice won games against the high-flying Knights by knocking down buzzer-beating three-balls, a slight smile on her lips as the richniks shed sweet, sweet tears.

Both shots were epic, but the first one, like O’Neil herself, is immortalized by inclusion in the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame.

With King’s and Coupeville playing for a #1 playoff seed January 18, 2008, O’Neil had the ball in her hands, having taken a pass from Hayley Ebersole, the clock madly ticking down in overtime, and the Wolves trailing 32-30.

She was supposed to drive to the hoop and try and draw a foul, but instead Killer Kassie pulled up from the parking lot and banked home a game-winning trey, setting off a riot in a packed CHS gym.

Along with knocking off King’s a second time before she was done, O’Neil also had a game with Granite Falls where she scored 13 of her 19 points during a furious fourth-quarter comeback.

Her high school heroics continued to the next level, where she played basketball at Whatcom Community College.

“We practiced and scrimmaged with the Western Washington University team a couple of times, and I’ll never forget the level of play during those times,” O’Neil said. “It was a blast to be around such talented players.”

As much joy as basketball brought her, it wasn’t her only sport, as she also played volleyball, softball, and tennis — as long as the other sports didn’t conflict with hoops.

A mother of four rambunctious boys, O’Neil decided that with her youngest about to hit five, now would be an ideal time to pursue a long-held dream.

“I have always wanted to pursue coaching. It was a dream of mine while I was still playing back in high school,” she said. “I really feel that it is time to get back into something that fulfills me outside of motherhood.

“Basketball has been a constant love for me, so when I heard this position was available, I jumped on the opportunity immediately.”

Her biggest goal will be to help her players find the same joy on the court which filled her heart as a young woman.

“I’m ready to help a new generation of girls fall in love with the sport I care so much about,” O’Neil said. “My personal goal for this season is to instill a love for the game, just as it was instilled into me during my middle school years.

“Teaching these girls what it feels like to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

Sports can affect every part of a player’s life, something O’Neil embraces.

“I wasn’t the best academically,” she admits, but “basketball was what pushed me through school.”

“I also want to help them foster relationships with their teammates that last far beyond their Coupeville school days,” O’Neil added.

“I still talk to, hang out with, and care for many of the girls I played basketball with throughout the years. We pushed ourselves through physical pain and losses together, which made us stronger.

“Knowing that there is a group of people that have your back on and off the court was invaluable for me during my school years. I hope to give my team the same kind of comradery that kept me so drawn to team sports.”

“I called glass!”

O’Neil hopes this will be the start of a successful new journey, both for her as a coach, and for the young women she will mentor.

“I would love to keep being the middle school coach, helping girls get ready for the intensity of high school ball,” she said. “Giving them hope that there could be basketball after high school, too; even for us kids from small schools.”

Working alongside her fellow new coach, O’Neil will stress fundamentals, with an emphasis on teamwork.

“I want my players to take away team trust more than anything,” she said.

“I want them to understand what it means to sacrifice for your team, to be there for your team, to work hard for your team, and to win and lose with your team.”

And, once on the floor, she wants her girls to have confidence in themselves.

“I don’t want to teach robots who can memorize and execute plays, but players who can run a basketball up the court, see their options and play organically as they see fit,” O’Neil said.

“I really just want to give them the basic skills necessary to build their own style of play, while teaching them how being on a team relates to being part of our community as a whole.”

A woman who was born and raised in Coupeville — with deep prairie roots — O’Neil has been spotted at multiple Wolf basketball games this season.

Now, like CHS hoops coaches/fellow alums Megan Smith and Brad Sherman, Killer Kassie can fill up the gym with her own family, as well as former teammates and coaches, continuing to help build a Wolf hoops tree in full flower.

“This community is and always will be part of me,” O’Neil said. “This community, especially my coaches throughout the years, gave so much of their time and energy towards helping me on and off the court, through some of the most challenging times in my life.

“I hope that I can give even a fraction of that back to the girls I coach, and to the community that I love so much.”

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Coupeville grad Courtney (Arnold) Sleister puts up a shot while getting ready for an alumni game. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

We’re in the sweet spot here.

By random chance, I currently am in possession of six scorebooks for Coupeville High School basketball teams of the past, and half those squads played a game on December 21 or 22 that season.

And all three won.

So, that’s something … said the guy looking for anything to write about during a largely sports-less pandemic.

While we wait for current players to return to the hardwood, a look back at a small slice of Wolf hoops history.

 

Boys Basketball
Coupeville 38
Crescent 36
**Played Dec. 22, 1988**

Hop on the roller coaster.

A year after a run to the state tourney, the Coupeville boys, who graduated their top five scorers from that team, lost six of their first seven games.

Offense was at a premium, as the Wolves managed just 16 points against Sultan, and 17 when matched up with perennial hoops power La Conner.

But then, they hit the Dec. 21-22 sweet spot.

With Tony Ford pounding away for nine points in the paint, CHS put visiting Crescent back on its heels and went to the first break up 13-9.

Whatever Wolf coach Ron Bagby told his troops during the timeout promptly … didn’t work.

The Loggers went on a 14-5 tear in the second quarter, reclaiming a 23-18 advantage and sending Coupeville to the locker room puffing ‘n panting.

But this time, perhaps allowed to be a tad more vocal inside the privacy of the locker room, Bagby got his point across, and the Wolves were a different team in the second half.

At least I assume so, as I was still living in Tumwater when this game went down on The Rock, a couple of months away from my family’s unexpected exodus to Whidbey.

Based on the book, the second-half surge was very much a team effort, as Coupeville spread out its scoring among five players.

Ford, who was overwhelmingly the #1 get-buckets guy all season, was held to just a basket in the final 16 minutes, but his teammates stepped up.

Brandy Ambrose popped for six points after the break, while Frank Marti (4), John Zimmerman (4), and Dean Grasser (4) all came up big in a game where Wayne Hardie, Jesse Smith, and Jason McFadyen also played.

Was the final margin set by a late game-winning bucket, or did the Wolves grab the lead and hang on by the skin of their teeth?

Like I said, I was in Tumwater at the time, so don’t have a clue.

I do know both teams dreaded the free-throw line all night, with Crescent (10-21) and Coupeville (2-10) clanking shots in every direction.

And, I do know the rebuilding Wolves promptly lost their next five games, eventually finishing 4-14.

But things rapidly improved after that, with young studs like McFadyen turning their 88-89 lumps into future success.

 

Girls Basketball
Coupeville 40
Friday Harbor 34
**Played Dec. 21, 2007**

Survive and thrive.

The Wolf girls got out to an early lead, then let the visitors chip away, before sealing the deal with an impressive final stand.

Up 10-8 after one period, Coupeville clung to a 22-21 advantage at the half, then trailed 30-29 headed into the fourth.

Crunch time belonged to Shawna West however, as she battered her way to the hoop for seven of her 10 points to spur a game-closing 11-4 run.

Only four Wolves tallied points in the victory, with Megan Smith and Hayley Ebersole tying for game-high honors with 13 apiece.

Ebersole had an especially hot hand in the second quarter, rattling home eight points on a variety of shots.

She tickled the twines on a long three-ball, one of two treys she netted in the game, while adding a pair of two-point buckets and a free throw during a busy stretch.

West added her 10 points — giving CHS three players in double figures on a night when Friday Harbor’s top scorer, Kelsey O’Day, topped out at nine — while Ashley Manker added four for the Wolves.

In a close game, both teams left points off the board thanks to free-throw shooting, though the visitors (10-22) probably rued it more than Coupeville (10-16) ultimately did.

While four scored, nine played for CHS coach Blake Severns, with Kayla Lawson, Courtney Boyd, Sarah Vass, Paige Mueller, and Kassie Lawson all seeing floor time.

 

Girls Basketball
Coupeville 41
Friday Harbor 37
**Played Dec. 22, 2009**

Two years later, same opponent, a lot of the same players, almost same result.

Coupeville played like a pack of savages en route to claiming a 13-5 lead by the first break, before Friday Harbor started chip, chip, chippin’ away.

A 14-10 advantage in the second, tacked on to a 12-8 margin in the third let the visitors get all the way back, and the game went to the final frame knotted at 31-31.

Down the stretch, it was Manker, with two big buckets, who led the final stand.

Marie Hesselgrave added a fourth-quarter basket, while Katie Smith and Cassidi Rosenkrance each netted a pair of free throws, sending Severns and Co. out the door with a smile.

In a game in which the Wolves sank five bombs from behind the three-point arc, Smith was the leader, recording three treys as part of a game-high 14-point effort.

Manker added 11, with Hesselgrave (6), Smith (4), Kendra O’Keefe (3), Rosenkrance (2), and Courtney Arnold (1) also scoring, while Taya Boonstra shredded folks on defense.

 

So, what this does all prove?

A couple of things, skippy.

That, in a (very) small sample, Coupeville High School basketball owns the dates of Dec. 21-22.

And, that if I look hard enough, I can probably scrape together a story out of just about anything.

Which is how, here on Dec. 21, 2020, Coupeville Sports — which launched Aug. 15, 2012 — officially reaches article #8,000.

So, that’s something.

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Kassie (Lawson) O’Neil, forever hitting nothing but net, on and off the court.

Kassie (second from left, back row), during her senior season.

Nothing but net.

Just give her the dang ball.

Kassie (Lawson) O’Neil was one of the deadliest scorers Coupeville High School basketball has ever seen.

It wasn’t always how many points she scored, though, but when she scored them, and how she scored them, that ensures her place in Wolf lore.

Kassie was a Killer, and you better spell that with a capitol K as you put some respect on her name.

Her sisters Kayla and Katie were hoops stars as well, and lil’ bro Kurtis a pretty darn good baseball player, but today the focus is all on the woman who just turned 29 a few days ago.

Now the mom of four young boys (all primed to make their names in a Wolf uniform as well, if local fans are lucky), Kassie is an extraordinary woman.

Today we swing open the doors of the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame, and welcome her into our digital hideaway, an honor long overdue.

After this, you can pop up to the top of the blog, look under the Legends tab, and bingo, there she will be.

Not that she needed me to tell you she’s a legend, cause her game did all the talking.

One of the rare Wolves to net points at the varsity level in all four seasons, Kassie currently sits at #61 on the all-time CHS girls scoring chart (out of 229 players).

But that doesn’t tell the full tale.

Kassie played alongside some of the best scorers the Wolf program has seen, from Megan Smith (#4 all-time) to Shawna West and Ashley Manker, with both of her sisters tossed in to the bucket chase as well.

So Killer Kassie picked her moments, then delivered the daggers.

Two nights stand out the most, one in her junior season, the other when she was a senior.

On the night of January 18, 2008, Kassie and Co. welcomed private school juggernaut King’s to town, with everything on the line.

The Wolves and Knights were battling for the #1 playoff seed out of the Cascade Conference, and the visitors held a two-point lead with mere seconds to play in overtime.

Just give her the dang ball.

Thus setting up one of the biggest buzzer-beaters in school history — along with Ian Smith making all of South Whidbey weep sweet, sweet tears in 2011, and Steve Whitney shocking King’s in ’79.

Pulling up out in the parking lot, long before Steph Curry and Damian Lillard made it the popular thing to do, Killer Kassie banked home a game-winning three-ball.

Cue a 33-32 Wolf win. Cue an eruption in the CHS gym. Cue the birth of a legend.

While that first chapter happened in a flash, the second night Kassie claimed the spotlight, she did so for an extended period of time.

Facing off with Granite Falls late in her senior season (February 3, 2009), she went off for 13 of her team-high 19 points in the crucible of the fourth quarter.

Just give her the dang ball.

The Wolves entered the fourth quarter trailing 29-28, and eventually lost 51-49 when the visiting Tigers slipped in a game-winner at the buzzer.

Which doesn’t take anything away from Kassie’s torrid fourth quarter run.

She bounced off the bench with a gleam in her eye, nailed a three-ball to kick things off, then softly whispered, “Oh, there’s more where that came from, baby!”

At least that’s how I’d like to believe it went down.

I wasn’t there, but neither were you, very likely, so just go with it.

Either way, Kassie was locked-in over the game’s final eight minutes, following up her trey with a pair of buckets, a free throw, another bucket, then a final three-ball.

That long-range dagger, which rattled home with just 18 ticks left on the clock, knotted the game at 49.

Megan Smith, Mandi Murdy, Jesse Caselden, and Katie Smith also came up big with fourth-quarter buckets, but it was Killer Kassie who was unstoppable.

And here’s a fun fact.

Megan Smith, who Kassie shared the court with for three seasons, torched the nets for 1,042 points in her CHS career.

That included singing Friday Harbor for 30 while narrowly missing the program’s single-game scoring record of 32, set by Judy Marti in 1983.

Meanwhile, South Whidbey’s Lindsey Newman tormented Coupeville during the Kassie and Megan years, dropping 39 and 33 on the Wolves.

And yet…

Neither Megan Smith, in her four-year run, or Newman, in her meetings with CHS, ever went higher than 12 points in a single quarter.

Cause you have to be Killer Kassie to go out there and slap down a 13, while making it your lucky, and not unlucky, number.

Just give her the dang ball.

High school was big for Kassie, but it wasn’t even close to being her ceiling.

She went on to play some college ball, before shifting gears and becoming a mom and wife, a strong, accomplished woman, like her sisters, her mother DeeAnna, and her prairie ancestors, who include a town’s worth of Sherman’s.

Seeing the growth and development of her boys from afar, thanks to social media, is a testament to all she has accomplished, and all that is to come.

Pick your reason, and she’s a legend, worthy of all the praise and admiration.

Killer Kassie, forever hitting nothing but net, on the court and off.

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Sisters Katie Smith (left) and Kassie (Lawson) O'Neil.

Sisters, and former CHS hoops stars, Katie Smith (left) and Kassie (Lawson) O’Neil.

Kassie

O’Neil (second from left) and her fellow seniors in 2009.

Kass

Killer Kassie strikes again.

Where were you 2,886 days ago?

She might not remember it now, but Kassie (Lawson) O’Neil spent the night of Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009 heating up like a microwave.

In an eight-minute span during the fourth quarter, in a game against visiting Granite Falls that was ultimately decided by just two points, the Coupeville High School star went off for 13 of her team-high 19 points.

Why is that so special?

Because, during a period where she played with two of the best to ever wear the CHS uniform — Megan Smith and Ashley Manker — and when the Wolves faced off twice a year with South Whidbey’s otherworldly Lindsey Newman, O’Neil’s explosion sits as the best one-quarter performance in the books.

I have CHS girls’ basketball books from 2007-2010, and while Newman torched Coupeville for 39 and 33 and Smith waxed Friday Harbor for 30, neither one reached higher than 12 in a single quarter.

But there’s Kassie, a team captain who went on to play college ball before marriage and starting her own pack of future basketball-playing sons, holding down the top spot.

Her biggest single moment is the night she banked in a three-ball at the buzzer in overtime to upend highly-ranked King’s, but her work in the fourth against Granite Falls is a nice back-up exhibit.

Coupeville had jumped out to a 10-8 lead after one, stretched it to 24-15 at halftime, then hit a rough spot in the third.

Despite buckets from Mandi Murdy and O’Neil, the Wolves were outscored 14-4 and trailed 29-28 heading into the final eight minutes.

At that point, Smith topped the Wolves with 12 points, while O’Neil had six (she had a bucket in every quarter) and Murdy five.

Cue the offensive explosion, as the two squads, which had scored 57 points combined through three, went off for 43 in a wild fourth.

Granite Falls would escape with a 51-49 win, and it was a bit of a heart-breaker, as the Tigers scored at the buzzer to avoid overtime.

It was a barn-burner, though, as Coupeville rode O’Neil’s hot shooting to a 10-point lead, only to surrender a 12-1 run by Granite at the end.

Audrey Murphy, who poured in a game-high 26 for Granite, hit for nine down the stretch, including the game winner, while Coupeville got fourth quarter points from Katie Smith, Jesse Caselden, Murdy, Megan Smith and, of course, O’Neil.

She went off right from the start, drilling a three-point bomb.

Then came a pair of buckets, a free throw, another bucket and then a final trey to cap O’Neil’s whirlwind quarter.

The three-ball, which rattled home with just 18 ticks left on the clock, knotted the game at 49.

Win or lose, O’Neil’s dominance in the spotlight remains one of the more memorable nights in Wolf hoops history.

Plus, performances like that will enable her sons to one day turn to their own teammates and say, “I want to play like my mom. She was a freakin’ rock star!”

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