MOLALLA - Regardless of outcome, the game itself was a great accomplishment.
Wallowa High School girls proudly walked away from this basketball season. Not that the details of their final game were extraordinary. They lost, 57-32, at Country Christian High Feb. 25 in Molalla. But they doubt anybody had expected them a week earlier - with their dismal record (two wins and 18 losses, including 16 in a row, which included all 10 of their games in the Old Oregon League) - to still be playing so late ... among the few teams in the playoffs for a state championship. So who cared if Country Christian eliminated them in the first round? Their sudden turnaround had already warmed their hearts.
"I'm so excited just that we made it this far," junior forward Megan Goller said. "No one thought we could have done this. When we started, we didn't know how to shoot, how to do anything. Then Amanda (Wilson) took over as our coach, and everything changed. We kicked butt at districts. Just winning that first game at districts was unbelievable."
Country Christian showed the Wallowa girls they still have a long way to go. Freshman Skylar Waters opened the playoff by scoring a three-point basket, as Wallowa jumped ahead 5-2. But the home team quickly answered with 10 straight points. Country Christian remained in the lead for the rest of the night. Early in the second quarter, Wallowa closed to within 12-8 as sophomore Kuulei Delatori sank a free throw and freshman Bekah Jamerson converted an offensive rebound. But the Country Christian team fired back another 10-0 run.
Most of the time, Country Christian applied an aggressive full-court press. That forced Wallowa's youngsters to repeatedly turn over the ball. They struggled to combine any positive moments into a rally. Early in the third quarter, senior Ayesha Wortman scored. She then stole the ball and passed to Goller, who banked a layup. But Country Christian responded with 11 unanswered points for a 39-14 edge. Wallowa players admitted they were nervous.
"Major butterflies," junior Tiffany Zollman confessed. "I was okay, until right before going on the court. It's my first year on varsity. I was surprised (Coach Wilson) put me in the districts and then here. My face got red. I was like, 'Uh, me?'"
Even as the game got out of hand, Wallowa girls used the opportunity to learn. For much of the second half, they attacked Country Christian with their own backcourt press.
Finishing this winter on a positive note, Wallowa can cheerfully continue to build its program. Wortman, the point guard, will graduate in the spring. But a few juniors (Meagan McKenzie, Natalie Millar, Zollman and Goller) can assume leadership roles on a team next year that will remain young. As a sophomore, Delatori developed more confidence in her three-point shot. And several freshmen already have made major contributions on varsity. Waters was the top scorer. Sara Chrisman also showed a nice touch on her jump shot. Breanna Wallace and Jamerson challenged veteran forwards on other teams.
Next year's Wallowa team will look to pick up where this one left.