By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Over the last three-years, the Salem Academy Girls Basketball place in Coos Bay has been a fixture for the Lady Crusaders program as their winning ways.
During those three years, the senior class has seen it all: State Championship Runner-Up as freshman, Three-straight PacWest Conference-title and headlining names like Sydney Brown and Aimee Smith that helped solidify the program.
“Just since middle school we’ve all been a tight group of girls and we’ve grown up together and our chemistry is really strong and so I think it really helped us through the years and get better as a team,” said Emma Gould. “Individually we’ve been encouraging. Work hard against each other, but also as a team play hard in games.”
The Final Four the last two years haven’t been kind for Salem Academy, losing to Amity as sophomores and to rival and eventual State Champions in Blanchet Catholic last year as juniors; but they bounce back with the mentality that they can do it again and make it to the Big Game as they did as Freshman during the 2014-2015 season.
Head Coach Ben Brown, who’s been around the girls since middle school as coach and further back for some to their day’s in the Boys and Girls Club since the third/fourth grade, the bitter sweetness of this year of seeing these girls entering their last year of prep basketball but he’s proud of how far along they’ve came.
The eight seniors too been holding their head high after the last two seasons ended with third-place finishes, certainly showing the younger girls like a Grace Brown and a Chloe Baker about answering adversity when it comes knocking.
“That game you lose at State and unfortunately the last two years it’s been that Final Four game that we’ve lost with the chance to get to the Title,” said Brown. “What I’ve been most proud of our ladies is that third-place game, who can pull themselves up by the boot straps and finish, because everyone is highly emotional. You don’t have a chance for the Title, that was dashed the night before and who can recover and get back to business to win.
“I’ve been really proud of our ladies the last two times to grab third where we could’ve easily lost by being just emotional and all that hard-work comes down to that one game and these ladies are ready. I believe this year, they know that yeah we got 25 games on the schedule, but we’re looking at those last four games of the year/ Those four State playoff games that we’re preparing for those. We don’t overlook any opponents from now til then.”
And that starts with one-game at a time with St. Mary’s of Medford to open up the season in Sutherlin next Thursday and as practice was wrapping up Wednesday with a scrimmage against the Boys JV squad, the girls are slowly getting themselves physically and mentally prepared for the tough non-league schedule ahead.
“Playing the guys, it’s actually really good for us because we’ll be playing a lot of physical teams in the out-of-league stuff,” said Kara Standridge on playing the guys. “We’re playing a lot of good teams that are stronger and bigger than us. So playing against the guys who are physical and they can jump and are aggressive, that’ll help us stay mentally strong and physically strong as well.”
Playing the Crusaders of Medford is only a taste of what is to come. They then play a playoff-caliber team in Stayton of the 4A level on the second night of the season down in Sutherlin also.
That’s followed up by a tournament in Dayton, then a road trip to Phoenix for the Tournament of Champions where some of the best-teams from around the area come down and throw down.
Some teams from 2016 include Mater Dei (Santa Ana) who finished second in the CIF Division II (about 5A-6A level, Division-I is mainly 6A-size schools) State Playoffs, Miramonte was a CIF D-II semi-finalist that played at the tournament as well. Playoff teams from California, as well as Arizona and Oregon go to this tournament every year as a challenge for each other for the postseason.
“We’re going to face a couple big teams in Phoenix, it’s definitely going to be a challenge so I think it’s going to be really helpful for us to be pushed in those games even if we’re losing just to stay giving our full effort,” said Gould. “It’s hard for us as a team, (we) struggle from behind, so I think it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Standridge added too that the Phoenix Tournament, like their other non-league games, will help them sharpen up their strengths for the PacWest Conference which is going to be challenging with Gervais, Scio and Jefferson looking to challenge them and the Lady Cavilers on top of the conference.
“It’s going to come down to who has more endurance, who has more speed because you can have a lot of talent but if you don’t have the speed and endurance to go through the whole entire game and have the strength then the other team is going to win.” said Standridge. “But we do have a lot of endurance, we do have a lot of strength in those areas. So I definitely think that’s going to help us in our favor in those games, especially in Phoenix.”
The Tournament of Champions in Phoenix is December 19-22 before the Lady Crusaders close out the 2017 Calendar year with their own hosted tournament going on between December 28-30 before league starts January 3 at Blanchet.
And as the last ride starts on November 30 in Sutherlin, the eight seniors know where they want to go and end up:
In the game that they ended in their freshman year, only this time being the one’s to be holding up that first-place trophy while handing the key’s to the program car over to those returning next year on a high-note.
“I think it’s really important as underclassmen to take them underneath your wing, help them through drills,” “If they have questions, ask them and talk through things if they don’t understand it. Just kind of include them in everything helps as a team.”
Follow Jeremy McDonald on Twitter at @J_McDonald81 or like jmcdonaldmedia on Facebook!
Photos By Jeremy McDonald