Skyhawks are the two-time defending Class 6A state champs, bring back Brink, Meek

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Southridge junior point guard McKelle Meek and the Skyhawks are the two-time defending Class 6A state champions.

Chasing after a three-peat of Class 6A state championships is as unique a challenge as one can find in high school sports.

Roster turnover shakes up the starting lineup. Graduation forces change. In most cases, teams often don't have the same roster construction from one championship year to the next. And that's just the in-house alterations. Other programs that have come up shy against the prohibitive powerhouse strengthen in numbers and resolve. The target that was once sizable expands infinitely with each passing crown.

Southridge is the two-time defending 6A state basketball titlist, brings back one of the best players in the nation in Cameron Brink, an exceptional backcourt in McKelle Meek and Maya Hoff, plus a nucleus of once-unheralded players who stepped up in the state playoffs last year such as Kaylen Blair. The personnel is in place to win three in a row, especially with a centerpiece like Brink.

But at the state and league level, Beaverton is better than it was a year ago. As is Benson, who was bulldozed by Southridge in the 2017 6A title game. Both teams bring back the majority of their '17 team and each wants a shot at the champs when it matters most — in early March at the Chiles Center. Additionally, there are other programs who will treat their respective contests with Southridge as if they're the Super Bowl.

It should make for a fascinating '18-19 trek as Southridge sets out on its three-peat quest. But first things first. The Skyhawks want another Metro League championship and will have an improved conference waiting for them when league play kicks off.

"We should be very competitive in the Metro League this year," Southridge head coach Michael Bergmann said. "While we lost some major pieces from last year's team, we return many players as well, with good new additions. I think the winner of the league will come from Southridge, Beaverton or Jesuit. All three of these teams were very competitive last year. This should be a very competitive league this year."

Two of those key departures Bergmann referred to are Natalie Hoff and Maggie Freeman, pillars of the past two title teams who will be missed after moving on to the collegiate level. But Brink is a unicorn, a 6-foot-4 forward who's both fast and graceful, aggressive and passionate and supremely skilled. She's currently the second-ranked player in the 2020 class according to ESPN and coming off a gold medal playing for the Team USA U17 squad over the summer.

Brink increased her recruiting stock even further during the AAU season which culminated in a verbal commitment to Stanford University. The junior will anchor Southridge's team defense and act as the fulcrum by which the Skyhawks operate on the offensive end. Brink didn't play volleyball this fall, allowing herself time to recoup after a busy summer and get ready for another title run. It'll be interesting to see what she's added to her already elite game and how vast her impact can spread.

"Brink is an elite player because she has such great length but she has guard-like skills," Bergmann said.

Playing alongside such stars as Brink, Hoff and Freeman, Meek hasn't received her just due as an individual player, but her moment is near. For two years the pass-first point guard led from the front both atop the Skyhawk full court press and as a ball-moving, knockdown shooter. She gets her teammates involved but can get buckets by being aggressive while looking to score.

"Meek is an outstanding shooter with great vision as a point guard," Bergmann said.

Maya Hoff starts in the backcourt with Meek. Both guards can play the point or off the ball. Each is a defensive nightmare armed with speed, quickness and smarts. Hoff locked up Benson stud Tayler Lyday in the 6A title game last year, sending the Techman into a mental tailspin as the game got away from the PIL entrant. More than just a defensive stalwart, the sophomore guard is a smooth operator with an evolving bag of tricks and a diverse offensive game. She and Meek most likely will get more opportunities to showcase their respective games with extra shot attempts and touches as the year goes along.

"Maya Hoff is an outstanding defender who uses her length on both sides of the floor to impact the game," Bergmann said.

Blair burst onto the state scene in the playoffs last year, first having an indelible impact on Southridge's second round clash with Canby and again in the quarters against Clackamas. With Brink battling an ankle injury and Freeman being the main focus of Southridge's postseason opponents, others had to step up. Blair answered the bell, supplying hustle, toughness and defensive merit to the eventual champs. Kyla Vinson and Emoney Reid saw time off the bench last year as well. Kilyn Dawkins, Akeve Randall, Kailea Boerste will also factor into a rotation.

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