The storybook season wasn't supposed to end like this, without a surefire resolution, with unanswered questions, with a forever unwritten chapter, without a chance to fight for a Class 6A state championship.
The Beaverton girls' basketball team deserved better. Every great script needs an ending and the Beavers were worthy of a royal finale. They went wire-to-wire as the top team in the 6A coaches' poll, from December through March. They were prohibitive favorite going into the 6A state tournament, a notion that strengthened after beating Southridge in the quarterfinals on March 11. They had paid their dues over the years, slayed the giants put in their path this season, sacrificed for one another, suffered together, adhered to every championship prerequisite.
Basketball has plenty of idiosyncrasies and the best team doesn't always win in the end, especially in single-elimination play come the postseason. But with Sydney and Laura Erikstrup at forward, Mary Kay Naro at the point, Jordyn Reverman and Alexa Borter on the wings, a bench that was both talented and bought into 'team', Beaverton felt infallible. The Beavers' best effort, with a rare two-way buy-in to both ends of the floor, was better than anybody's in the state, bar none. This was their time, their moment, until fate unfortunately intervened.
Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the OSAA decided to cancel the remainder of the winter sports season on Thursday, March 12, around 11:30 a.m. No postponement. No suspension of play. Canceled.
Beaverton head coach Kathy Naro was deep in preparation on Thursday morning, getting ready for Liberty, the Beavers' semifinal opponent, when she received a text from Sydney Erikstrup asking if the news was real. Sadly, cruelly, due to circumstances way beyond their control, it was. There would be no semifinal clash with Liberty on Friday, no state championship appearance, no opportunity to cut down the Chiles Center nets.
"It was a very emotional discussion as a team," Naro said. "We were all processing together. There were a lot of tears. We were trying to talk through the bigger picture, how this virus is affecting others but also going through the emotions of ending it this way. It was good to be together and talk it through. I know the OSAA was in a very difficult position and I don't envy their position. You have to make decisions on safety and health reasons. They were in a real predicament. We were just in shock."
Kathy Naro didn't have to break the news to her team who learned of the tournament termination via social media that morning. But that by no means made the subsequent speech addressing her team later that afternoon any easier. This was arguably the best team Kathy Naro has ever coached. It's probably the finest squad the Beaverton girls' basketball program has ever produced. They were deemed the chosen ones that would end the school's 22-year state championship drought. This was the special group that would put a banner up above the scoreboard in its home gym, the first girls' basketball championship in school history. They swept Southridge, pounded Mountainside with Cameron Brink at full strength twice, didn't lose to an in-state opponent all year and won 23 games. It all felt like serendipitous. And then, with one decision, it was all taken away.
Beaverton was the bride left at the altar.
The sense of finality, of seeing a dream dashed not due to a defeat but abducted by a wicked turn of events, felt unfair. There won't be any true closure to a season that was so spectacular. Yet, in the middle of frustration and sadness and "What ifs?" Naro reminded her players that while the ultimate goal wouldn't come to pass, the expedition in getting there would never be forgotten, that their legacy will never be tarnished.
"I told them what champions they've been," Naro said. "I've never had a group work harder on the court and sacrifice more for one another and love one another like this group. We might not have the opportunity to hold that trophy, but in my opinion, they proved they were champions on a daily basis, which is hard to do. Nothing takes that away. I was so proud of them throughout this journey."
Moments along the way like when the Beavers asked Naro to play music from "Frozen" during their practice warmups, so that they could belt out "Let It Go" or the team retreat to Gearhart, the laughter, the inside jokes or even the meal they all shared at Red Robin after the OSAA made its official announcement to cancel the tourney, can never be taken away. Practices were rugged and physical. Naro was fine pitting the twins against each other or sicking Reverman on Mary Kay Naro for a stretch. Sometimes there was an irritation that comes from high-level competitiveness. But at the end of every practice, Beaverton came back to the middle of the floor, circled up, put its arms around one another and embraced. This group was so focused on winning a state title, but it never lost its love for the game or each other. It enjoyed every bit of the ride, even if it won't reach its final destination.
"It didn't finish out how we wanted, but life can be like that," Naro said. "Even though it sounds so cliché, being present in the moment is so important. You don't know what the next moment might bring. That's why we have to appreciate each day and remind one another of that."
On the court, their style was pure, an antidote for any basketball junkie. On offense the ball didn't move, it whooshed, pinging from player to player, finding the open teammate, the best option, the greatest look possible. Defensively, Beaverton was high-octane, playing with the same frenetic energy and effort as it did on the offensive end. At its optimal level, the Beavers turned that defense into majestic open floor offense, destroying teams in transition after clearing the glass with ruthless speed, keen decisions and highlight-reel worthy passes. Beaverton was fun, entertaining, cutthroat. In a matter of mere minutes, the Beavers could turn a close contest into a blowout, racing up and down the floor, picking teams apart in the half-court, letting their playmakers like the Erikstrups and Naro mince up opposing defenses with unremitting drives to the rim.
Laura Erikstrup was enjoying her best season to date, destroying posts around the rim and providing a defensive presence. Sydney Erikstrup was Beaverton's Swiss Army knife. Whatever they needed on a given night, the future Arizona State Sun Devil provided. Mary Kay Naro came into her own as well, striking that perfect balance between attacking on her own and making plays for others. Reverman was a defensive stopper and morphed into a three-point sniper. Borter could shoot the three too, but she bolted down defensively and ran the court hard. Off the bench, there were rotation players worthy of starting minutes: freshmen Madison Naro, Zoe Borter and Lainey Spear who will soon have their time to shine and junior Mackenzie Naro who could heat up like a microwave from behind the three-point line. Seniors Yasmine Torres and Isabelle Potts didn't play as much as their senior cohorts. But that didn't stop them from standing on the bench and cheering their lungs out in the middle of a game-changing run. The familial chemistry, literally and figuratively, both on and off the court, the compassion for each other, the care, the surrendering of personal stats to make sure the squad succeeded was second to none.
"They were able to sacrifice for the good of our team," Naro said. "And I think they truly valued one another and understood that everybody was giving to the group. There was a real appreciation for that and each other. We've had glimpses of that in the past, but it was watching the kids grow and change and mature that has been such a blessing. Every team can talk the talk and say 'Oh yeah I'm all about the team' but then when they don't get what they want they sulk in the corner, they bring people down. It's not easy to do. Normally, it doesn't happen. But this group did it."
The Beaver players' gamut of emotions ranged from anger to disappointment to sadness when its season came to a premature end. The Erikstrup twins, the Borter sisters, the Naro sisters all unknowingly played their last games together at the high school level when they beat Southridge 37-26. They were ready for more. They were prepared to take on Liberty in a game littered with storylines. Kathy Naro coached Melanie Wagoner when Wagoner played high school ball at Jesuit in the early 2000s. These were two great teams with stars and talent galore plus masses of motivation on both sides. Liberty lit up Mountainside the 6A quarters, making 14 three-pointers, playing confidently without angst, like they belonged on the big stage. Even without fans in the stands, Kathy Naro said Beaverton was fully on board to play in an empty arena. At this point in the season, incentive was not a problematic issue. Plus, the Beaver bench brings more spirit and energy than a state championship cheerleading squad, except they can come in and drop buckets on your head too. Kathy Naro was pouring over Falcon game film, getting a gameplan ready. With a day to ready itself between the finals and quarterfinals, her team was excited to practice one last time.
"I thought it was going to be epic," Naro said of the Liberty game. "Melanie has done a fantastic job. They played Mountainside with a swagger. They were loose and free. I love their vibe. (Wagoner) had them in a really good spot. But I also felt very good about where we were at. I felt a lot of confidence and was very excited to play them."
To cancel the tournament, to not even put postponement on the table and push the semifinals to a later date, after the OSAA announced on Wednesday night it would ban spectators from the basketball tournaments the following three days but allow the games to unfold, was crushing.
"The whole thing is surreal," Naro said. "Most of our players would've been willing to sign a waiver to play these next few days. My players were putting together an email to the OSAA trying to plead their case. But I don't know the logistics. And you think about what's going on in the world and the health and safety of others."
In this day in age where there is so much unknown, sports are one of the few sacred arenas where there is a clear winner and a clear loser, a champion, a runner-up at season's end, 2020 will have a vacancy in the record books.
"As this unprecedented public health emergency continues to evolve, we believe that the responsibility to our member schools and communities regarding the health and safety of participants remains our highest priority," said Peter Weber, OSAA Executive Director.
This news comes after the Pac-12, along with other major collegiate conferences and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), canceled their men's basketball tournament and all other sporting events until further notice due to COVID-19.
Hungry, connected, heart, relentless, finish. Those were the five words Beaverton picked out as the overarching themes to its season, pillars to abide by, promises made to each other to uphold those oaths. The Beavers embodied every single one of those themes this year. The Erikstrups, Reverman and Mary Kay Naro will take their talents to the collegiate level. Potts and Torres will graduate and go on as college students. But their legacy will live on, in their coaches, their sisters, their teammates, the younger Beavers coming through the ranks.
"It's so important to have a strong foundation in your program and I feel like these six seniors have given such a strong example of work ethic and sacrifice," Naro said. "Little things make big things happen on and off the court, little gestures, not taking shortcuts become really big things. That's what we hope to continue."
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