Oregon City girls put finishing touch on another Mt. Hood championship
The Oregon City High School girls' basketball team keeps finding ways to win games -- and league titles.
The Pioneers did it again Friday, clobbering Gresham 72-33 behind Kaari Guelsdorf's game-high 20 points to clinch the Mt. Hood Conference championship outright on the final night of the regular season.
Isabella Crowley added eight points and Rory Schedler had seven off the bench for the Pioneers (16-8, 13-1 Mt. Hood), who will take a 10-game win streak into Tuesday's home game against McNary (17-7, 11-5 Greater Valley) in the opening round of the OSAA Class 6A playoffs.
"I'm just so amazed and proud of my team," Guelsdorf said. "It sounds cliche, but it feels good to prove all the people who doubted us wrong and come back strong and fight for what we wanted."
Said senior guard Allie Edwards: "It's probably one of the best feelings ever. We definitely had to work very hard and I think the main thing was playing together as a team. I think we did that really well."
This is the Pioneers' third league title in four seasons as a member of the Mt. Hood Conference, and the 23rd league title in the past 25 seasons. So this isn't anything new for one of the most decorated programs in all of Oregon high school athletics.
The Pioneers defied the odds, considering all the question marks that hung over the program after the graduation of Division I prospect N'Dea Flye and the fact that Clackamas was a unanimous pick to repeat as league champions.
Oregon City went 3-7 against some high-caliber competition at three non-conference tournaments to open the season. The Pioneers also worked through some off-court issues that led to six players getting suspended for five games each -- a rough stretch that players used to draw closer together as a team.
"We felt pretty good coming out of summer," Pioneers coach Kurt Guelsdorf said. "Then we go to Northern California and got pounded a little bit, go to Hawaii and get pounded a little bit … and those things can either break you down and make you cower to the adversity or it makes you tougher.
"I think we took the latter route. We decided to get a little bit tougher and we learned from the mistakes we were making early. We found out right away what we weren't good at against some really good teams and we got better at it and the kids bought in and they stayed focused."
Clackamas grabbed the early inside track in the league race when the Cavaliers beat the Pioneers 49-44 at Oregon City on Jan. 16, and then both teams held serve over the next three weeks.
The turning point in the league race came in a stretch of three games in seven days:
-- On Feb. 7, Oregon City rallied from a 15-point deficit with under five minutes to play against visiting Central Catholic and defeated the Rams 68-60 in overtime to remain one game behind league-leading Clackamas.
-- On Feb. 9, the Pioneers went to Clackamas and Brooke Bullock made two free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining in a 44-42 win that lifted Oregon City into a first-place tie with three games remaining in the regular season.
-- On Feb. 13, Central Catholic's Abigail Cooper and Mya Thomas scored a combined 35 points, leading the Rams to a 55-49 road win over Clackamas that dropped the Cavaliers into second place, a game behind Oregon City.
"We honestly were so surprised," Kaari Guelsdorf said. "We all figured, 'OK, we're going to be co-champions,' and just assumed Clackamas would beat Central Catholic. But when Central beat Clackamas, we were so happy and honestly shocked."
The Pioneers closed out the season with consecutive blowout wins over Barlow, David Douglas, and Gresham -- three games in which the average margin of victory was 40 points.
"Things fell our way," Kurt Guelsdorf said. "Part of it is good fortune, but I do believe that you make your own luck sometimes. We make it with hard work, tradition comes into play, and then just thinking that you're going to win.
"You may not always win every game, but you go into the game thinking, 'I've got a chance. I've got Oregon City on my jersey, we feel pretty good, we've prepared for this moment since the fifth grade, and we know what we're doing.'"
For a program with such high expectations, is there ever any pressure to try and live up to the standards that were set by past Oregon City teams?
"Sometimes, but we also want to create our own legacy," said Edwards, one of the six seniors on this season's roster. "We want to remember everyone in the past and what they've done, but we also want to make our own name, too. I think that's a big deal.
"I think we're good and always working hard. I think that's what leads to our success a lot of the time."
For Kurt Guelsdorf, who picked up career win No. 450 on Friday, the league title was extra special with senior daughters Kaari and Kylie each playing key roles for the Pioneers.
Friday's game also served as a farewell of sorts for the Pioneers, who are leaving the Mt. Hood Conference after a four-year run and returning to the Three Rivers League for the 2018-19 school year.
"It's always fun as a senior to win your league," Kurt Guelsdorf said. "The fact that we were able to pull off that Wednesday-Friday feat, beating Central Catholic and then Clackamas, really was the difference between us being league champions or not. And then we got a little fortunate when Central helped us out.
"There's a lot of things behind the scenes that we do and the kids do, but ultimately the kids have to make plays. We're going to try to build on the momentum that we've had the second half and head into the playoffs feeling pretty good about how we're playing."
GRESHAM 6 7 6 14 -- 33
OREGON CITY 24 21 17 10 -- 72
Gresham (33) -- Nuria Perez 14, Bertram 9, Gould 3, Mosely 3, Bassett 2, Arango 2, Jones, Veach, Williams, Fitzpatrick.
Oregon City (72) -- Kaari Guelsdorf 20, Crowley 8, Ro. Schedler 7, Edwards 6, Ri. Schedler 6, Fortin 5, Bullock 4, Hamilton 4, Welch 4, Ky. Guelsdorf 3, Bradford 3, Lugo 1, Kathan 1, Willard, Hood, Martineau.