By Jeremy McDonald
COOS BAY, Ore.– The story of the seniors of Salem Academy and Dayton ended where it began four years ago when they were freshman meeting in the 3A 2015 State Tournament Final.
Over the next three years after that first meeting on March 7, 2015, whenever the two squads met it was going to be one of those games that was going to be a battle that were decided by a few mere points that was more than just a non-league game.
So when it came down to March 3, 2018, it was no surprise that they were going to meet up again in the big show. It was more of a goal for them to see each other in the Title Game.
“I mean they’re a great team so personally I wanted to see them at the State Championship, they deserve it. They deserve their good athletes,” said Kalina Rojas, who averaged 12.3 points, 7.7 rebounds a game during the tournament as she brought home first-team All Tournament honors. “So I think it was cool to see them here and I think they’re good sports about it. I mean they were a hard team and we respect them
Through the years, they’ve seen each other grow and develop into the athletes they were entering their last meeting as high school athletes on March 3, 2018.
“We’ve all grown up against each other and it’s crazy to think that we’re all going our seperate ways and college,” said Brown, who got a first team honor in the tournament following her four point, three rebound, three steal and two block game. “I mean Kalina is going to California and Shawnie’s staying at Corban so it’s crazy to see that people are starting to grow up and I guess spread their wings.”
Both teams put out their best foot for the last time. The underclassmen showed out as Grace Brown hit the lone three-pointer for the Lady Crusaders in the game that gave Salem Academy a 4-0 lead, Dayton’s Chole Cisneros grabbed 11 rebounds with the Crusaders mounting one last comeback down four with 2:08 remaining.
Two programs that have deep rooted respect for one another coming down to one last run as both teams were more like families going after it for one another
“We both came out and played our hardest game.We, really like in our hearts, we just really wanted it and we really worked at it as a team.It wasn’t who scored the most points, it was about working together as a team and we’re a family, we’re not even a team,” said Chole Cisneros, who averaged seven rebounds a game for the Lady Pirates this postseason.
Both teams knew it was the last time they’ll play together as a unit, some even have deeper bonds like playing with family ties.
“It was very emotional, playing with my sister for the last time. My cousin and all the seniors I’ve known ever since elementary some of them,” said SA’s Grace Brown, said Grace Brown who was playing her last game with sister Sydney and cousin Eva Hardy. “And just having that experience with them, yeah we got second I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I wanted to give this game to them, I didn’t want to be…I’m not selfish about this, I don’t want this game for myself. I love my team, We’ve been through so much .”
The junior averaged 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in the tournament as she got second team All-Tournament.
Salem Academy knew the pain was there coming up short with Dayton making one last push at the end to ice it in the final 2:08 of the season, but the mutual respect was there as when Shawnie Spink came over to Sydney Brown and Aimee Smith and embraced them for one last time as Spink, Brown and Smith now take their game to the college level here in the fall.
Replacing big names like Spink, Kalina Rojas, Sydney Brown and Smith will be hard to say the least for both squads, but they are ready to embrace for what is to come in 2019 as the first-year of the Post-Class of 2018 takes over for both programs.
“We’re just going to have to push each other, putting in extra work outside of basketball season. It’s all about team work and how much you really want it in your heart,” said Cisneros for her and the Dayton girls coming back next year.
Kirsten Koehnke, who will be a senior next year with Grace Brown, Chole Campbell and Jamie VanderStoel, talked about what this senior class taught her in the one-year she was around them as her class takes over the senior role in 2019 and entering a new league with Dayton and Amity.
“We had great leaders, great seniors to look up too and those people that we can look to on-and-off the court for guidance,” Koehnke said as the junior as she scored two points and nabbed three rebounds in the game.
Spink finished with a 14.7 points, 3.7 assist average as she too got an unanimous first team nod along with Rojas who too got an unanimous nod for the first-team. Spink scored six points, five rebounds and five assist in the State Game.
Smith, too a first-teamer, averaged 12.7 points a game with 3 steals a game as she scored nine points, got six rebounds and four steals in her final game for Salem Academy.
And as both teams go their separate ways, college or returning, they won’t forever the bonds they’ve made with one another.
“We were just in the locker room talking about how wonderful it is to have each other as teammates and yeah we didn’t get the Championship but we don’t care because we have each other,” said Sydney Brown. “We are strong women, we’ve been through a lot together and I know we’ve been forever friends until after college when we’re all old married women or something.”