By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Coming off of their heartbreaking loss to Blanchet Wednesday to start PacWest Conference play, the Salem Academy team got back into the win-column Friday with a 60-29 victory over Scio on the road.
“We’re just working hard, pushing ourselves even harder and hopefully it shows in the game,” said Aimee Smith, the junior scored 17 points, grabbed four rebounds to go with six assist and two steals in the win.
This victory is just one of 12 in 13 games they’ve played already this season. You can sense a hunger within these girls after being so close with a second-place finish in 2014 and a third-place finish in 2015 as they look to continue their trek to a State Title behind a core group of girls that has been playing together, some since the third grade.
“We all got good team chemistry,” said Sydney Brown who added 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks, four assist in the game against Scio. “We’ve all been playing together, some of us have been playing together since Willamette Christian, since third grade. Like all of us juniors, so we have really good chemistry and we understand each other and I think that’s what we have to look forward to and that’s our strength.”
Head Coach Ben Brown points to the hunger of this group of juniors dating back to them as freshman when they lost to Dayton in the State Title game, then to a Senior Heavy Amity team when this group were sophomores.
Now as juniors, they started 11-0, a feat points Brown as they took on some tough preseason competition entering league.
“So those juniors, they’ve been at the State Tournament so they’ve got the experience but, they’ve also had the bitter taste in their mouth of not getting it done,” he said. “So they’re really want to get it, they’re really hungry. We’ve had some tough match-ups this year.
“We’ve beat Sutherlin, I mean Sutherlin is a little down but Josh (Grotting) is a great coach. Dayton, we always match-up well with them and it’s always a battle. So, the girls are hungry, we’ve never started 11-0 and I know we might have a letdown game, unfortunately it came against our rival team, we know each other pretty well, it’s tough.”
That loss, a heartbreaking three-point basket by the Cavs Sophia Poole that ended a perfect season bid, you saw it on the faces of Brown and Smith when mentioned; but both know it’s for the best.
“From the beginning we knew Blanchet was going to be our hardest competition this season and we know that they’ll come out pushing hard, we tried pushing our hardest, but we were off that night and hopefully we’ll get back to on it when we play them,” said Smith.
“It’s healthy to lose, it’s healthy to be shown that we need to be improve on what we need to improve on and it’s ok to lose,” adds Brown.
The Head Coach Brown points to two season, two tournaments he puts it, the first one, they finished undefeated with the preseason schedule.
The second is the ‘PacWest Tournament’ known as league play, and to win this tournament to get back to the State Tournament, they can’t afford another ‘L’.
“In the locker room after the Blanchet loss, I told the girls, we’ve won every tournament we’ve been in this year and now we have to look at our conference as another tournament,” he describes this mindset. “We’ve got 11 more game after the Blanchet game and we can’t lose one more. If we lose one more, then we’re out of this tournament, we don’t win this title.
“Obviously as a coach, you do as much as you can and knowing your going to be in the tournament, but that’s really what matters is seeing how deep we can go and make a run and stay healthy….we got 10 more games we got to cross off the list and the big one on the 24th playing Blanchet at their place, but we’ll be ready.
Yeah the 12-1 start is great and all, but the goal isn’t so much the record as to playing to their potential as they continue with this ‘Second Tournament’ in front of them behind a hunger and a drive only they know as true.
“It’s good, we’re just hoping for something better later on,” said Brown with a grin.
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