West Linn girls aiming for state tournament berth this season
The West Linn girls basketball team was so close last year that they could almost taste it.
The Lions, after finishing second in the Three Rivers League, won their first playoff game and needed just one more victory to secure a berth in the Class 6A state tournament.
But that last win never came — the ninth-ranked Lions dropped a heartbreaking 59-55 decision to No. 25 TRL foe St. Mary's and star Bendu Yeaney, who scored 26 second-half points to lead the Blues to victory.
The Lions — aiming for their first state tournament berth since 2012 — are determined not to let that happen again this year.
"It will take a lot of hard work and a couple lucky bounces, but (reaching the state tournament) is something we really want," said West Linn coach Jared Curtiss.
The team brings back a lot of experienced talent and adds more in a crop of fabulous freshman, this year's team led by three all-leaguers — senior captain Lexie Pritchard (a 5-foot-10 guard who was named to the all-TRL second team last year), senior captain Kennedi Byram (a 5-6 guard who won honorable mention honors last year) and senior captain Brooke Landis (a 5-4 guard who was also named to the honorable mention team).
"Lexie is our best pure player and she's been an amazing leader in practice," Curtiss said. "She has more skill this year, she defends well, passes it well, handles it well and shoots it well."
Likewise, Curtiss has no reservations about Byram or Landis either.
"Kennedi … will lead us in scoring sometimes and she's also elevated her game on defense. That really helps," Curtiss said, adding that Landis "is a really good shooter."
Also back with varsity experience are 5-7 senior guard Lizzy Herrick ("Lizzy is a blue-collar player," Curtiss said. "She plays within herself and is one of our best assist-makers off the dribble"), 5-11 junior post Alyx Burkhartzmeyer, 5-11 sophomore post Vanessa Viukhola and 5-9 sophomore post Elisabeth Dombrow.
But that's not the end of the story this year. This year's West Linn roster is bolstered by the addition of five talented freshmen, that group led by 6-0 post/wing Makayla Long, 6-4 post Aaronette Vonleh (the younger sister of Portland Trail Blazer Noah Vonleh), 5-8 guard Audrey Rosen, 5-8 wing Payton Shelstad and 5-7 guard Cami Fulcher.
"Makayla Long is a phenomenal athlete — maybe the best I've coached," Curtiss said. "She can rebound, score, defend and she communicates well. Yes, she still needs some polish, but she'll be good."
Along with Long, Vonleh will give the Lions a much-needed defensive presence in the middle and help replace three graduated posts, that trio led by 2017 first-team all-leaguer Kennedy Fulcher.
"We lost a lot of good seniors … but Aaronette is a difference-maker inside, Makayla can really move and fly around," Curtiss said.
Further, the team's overall depth and defensive ability should allow the team to gamble and play faster on both ends of the court.
That said, it's never easy in the Three Rivers League. Curtiss said he expects Tigard and St. Mary's — the Blues won twice at the tourney last year and finished fourth — to both be in the running for the 2017-18 league championship.
"Tigard should be really good and St. Mary's is kind of like our Kryptonite — their guards are really good," Curtiss said. "I think we stack up in the top three, but you just never know."