Beaverton girls hoops embracing state title expectations
Can Beaverton win "The Big One"?
The Beavers have been close to a Class 6A state title before. Two years ago, in the 6A semis, as a green group of mostly sophomores, the Beavers took Benson to the wire, only to be undone by a last-second Taylor Lyday layup that might still be sitting on the Chiles Center rim for all we know.
Last year sickness bedeviled Beaverton at the worst possible time, sapping the Beavers' stamina and strength at the state tournament. They fought valiantly but ultimately weren't at their best and couldn't unseat a vulnerable Southridge squad in the 6A semis.
The semis, due to bouts of ill-timed luck and the basketball gods bestowing favor elsewhere, have been Beaverton's stopping point. Can they break through this season?
Beaverton, more than ever, is about the right things: teamwork, selflessness, accepting roles and responsibilities, putting the squad before yourself. Talent has never been a question. Sydney and Laura Erikstrup, Mary Kay Naro, Jordyn Reverman, and Alex Borter make up the best starting five in the state. Mackenzie Naro is essentially a sixth starter and maybe the premier pure shooter on the team. Off the bench, an infusion of talented freshman has replenished a rotation that no longer needs to be stretched so thin.
The core is now content. Their futures are secure. The Erikstrups, Mary Kay Naro and Reverman have all inked with respective universities and will play at the collegiate level. There's no need to prove anything individually. Collectively, though, Beaverton wants everything: a Metro League title and the first state championship in school history. A girls' basketball banner would look pristine in the Beaverton gym's rafters. Sacrifice and deep day-to-day dedication will be required. But the Beavs are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
"We want to win state so bad," Laura Erikstrup said. "Every game we have to take like, this is the next step to winning state. You want to be the team that comes out on top every single game."
"Everyone wants to beat us, so every night we just have to come in ready," Sydney Erikstrup said. "And honestly, we just have to have fun. There's all this pressure and stress from it, but we just have to play for ourselves. It's amazing how (head coach) Kathy (Naro) prepares us. We just have to be ourselves. We don't have to do anything fancy, just stick to the fundamentals."
When the 6A preseason coaches' poll was released, Beaverton was picked as the state's top-ranked team, an honor for some. But the Beavers have been through the ringer over the last two years, experiencing the highs of postseason triumph and the dark valleys of defeat. They know state champions aren't crowned in December.
"Rankings don't mean anything," Sydney Erikstrup said. "You have to take care of business in games. That's going to produce the result you want at the end of the season. We just have to keep working and getting better every single game."
"Being ranked number one doesn't mean anything to us, it's just a number and we still have a lot of work to do," Laura Erikstrup said.
The Erikstrups said practices are much more cutthroat than in years' past, with a faster tempo, elevated competitive temperament, more defensive-focused. With Mackenzie Naro, senior Isabelle Potts and freshmen Madison Naro, Zoe Borter and Lainey Spear now in the lineup, Beaverton has a second unit that could start for a lot of schools. In games, that's important. These five players have all competed at a high level on the club scene for Clutch and are familiar with big-time basketball. They can come in for the veteran stars and provide rest and production in times of foul trouble. But in practice, the bench mob is pushing the starters to improve. They want to get on the court come game time. Borter and Naro naturally want to beat their older sisters. For the first time, maybe since the twins and Mary Kay Naro transferred to Beaverton two years, the Beavers have the quality depth to practice intensely, push each other and sharpen one another.
"Our freshmen are long and tall, so that's a whole new dynamic," Sydney Erikstrup said. "And, they're very skilled. There is no drop off when we go out of a game. They bring the same intensity level. That's a testament to how hard we've been working in practice and the level of play we all want to reach."
"When we play each other, you can't get away with those easy plays," Laura Erikstrup said. "They know what you're going to do."
Weaponry will not be an issue with this team. The Erikstrups are mismatch forwards who are equally adept taking opponents off the dribble as they are posting up inside. Defensively, the twins are underrated. Sydney Erikstrup can shut down guards and forwards alike. Laura Erikstrup is far from afraid to spar with some of the biggest, tallest posts in the land. When those two lock in defensively and devote themselves equally to that end of the floor, Beaverton is a different team, plain and simple. Reverman is a physical, rugged defender who will accept any defensive assignment put on the scouting report.
"We want to be known as the best defensive team in the state," Sydney Erikstrup said. "If you get stops on defense, that's what translates into offense. Communication is huge for us. You get tired and the last thing you want to do is talk (on defense) but when you do it's like having another player out there."
Alexa Borter and Mackenzie Naro provide the vital spacing as floor-stretching three-point shooters. The freshmen trio look the types that will do damage offensively, though their plates won't be filled as they adjust to varsity.
"We have so many tools on this team," Sydney Erikstrup said. "Anyone on any given day can go and hit everything."
Mary Kay Naro might have the quickest crossover in the state. She's uncontainable off the bounce, speedy in transition and best of all pass-first at the point who prides herself on the defensive end.
"We have the best point guard in the state of Oregon," Laura Erikstrup said of Mary Kay Naro. "She works her butt off on defense. She stops whoever is in her way. She can guard anyone; it doesn't matter if it's a post or a point guard. She's extremely unselfish. She sets the tone."
This season is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Beavers. It's the last chance for the Erikstrups to play together before they take off for San Diego and Arizona State. Mary Kay Naro gets to compete alongside her younger sisters, with her mom and dad, assistant John Naro, on the bench. The Borters are surely relishing what could be the only season of on-court sisterhood. There are three sets of sisters on the squad in total. The youngsters have grown up around the program on and off the court. They went to every game, watching intently, knowing their time was coming. They mixed into team hangouts, sat in on team dinners, took in the scene as their older siblings grew and matured. It's a group brought together by family ties, but one that organically has inherent chemistry that'll be crucial as the postseason nears.
"I feel like it's uncommon to find teams that are well-bonded as us," Laura Erikstrup said. "This year we have so many sisters on the team and we've all grown up playing basketball together. It's a new level of chemistry. We're all friends off the court and that brings a level of trust on the court."
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