Vikings wrap-up difficult season, but look forward to next year with newly mined experience.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Forest Grove's Ayden Purcell dribbles around a West Albany defender during the Vikings' game with the Bulldogs earlier this season.The Forest Grove boys basketball team lost to Sprague 56-47 last Thursday, Feb. 22, to end what has mostly been a tumultuous season.

The Vikings (7-17, 3-13) finished eighth in the Greater Valley Conference, struggling to get wins despite being competitive in most, to all of their games.

"This year's team played some very good basketball and did it with some of the best teams in the state for large parts of many games," said Forest Grove head coach Greg Evers. "We just had a difficult time doing it for a full 32 minutes."

After a fourth place finish last season, one which ended with a 66-55 loss to Southridge in the state playoffs' first round, the Viks returned a handful of key contributors – including standout point guard Kyle Thompson – and were poised to make some noise. But Thompson went down with an injury late in a league-opening victory at McMinnville, suffered a second injury a handful of games later, and the team would never be the same.

"Nobody likes to, nor should they, put the results of a season on any one player, but the loss of Kyle Thompson this year was very damaging to the success of this year's team," Evers said. "It had such a domino effect. When we lost him we not only lost our most skilled player, but we also lost this teams' most vocal presence."

Without their starting point guard, Forest Grove was forced to change their philosophy on the fly. Minus their anticipated scoring punch, they became more defensive, focusing on that end of the court in an effort win lower-scoring, harder-fought battles with their opponents.

FILE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove standout point guard Kyle Thompson missed the bulk of this season due to injury, and the Vikings never recovered. 
Evers leaned on first-year varsity assistant Jay Mercer to create a heightened defensive identity, and was very pleased with the results of Mercer's contribution.

"With Jay leading the way, we became a much better defensive team in the half court," Evers said. "With our scoring having trouble, it was very important that we improve our ability to defend the basket.  We did that, and Coach Mercer deserves a lot of the credit for that."

Despite the loss of Thompson and the subpar results, the silver-lining may have been the experience younger and greener players gained in the senior's absence. Evers saw growth in sophomore and second-year varsity player Guy Littlefield, who'll likely transition into the team's starting point guard next season.

"I thought Guy played very well down the home stretch for us and hope that springboards him into the off-season and next year," said the coach.

In addition to Littlefield, the Vikings return, wing Adison Emerick, guards Cole Smith, Jackson Buehler, and James Irvine, and posts Ayden Purcell, Dominic Funk, and Henry Tonges. The coach also liked what he saw from his younger teams and is excited about the prospects going forward.

"Our younger teams had a lot of success this season," Evers said. "I like what is coming up in our program, and I really like the new league we're entering.  We can be very competitive in this league and we are looking forward to the challenge."

The "new league" is the Pacific Conference, which will pit the Vikings against Glencoe, Liberty, Century, McMinnville, Newberg and Sherwood. The league will provide Forest Grove an opportunity to renew some old rivalries, while maintaining their traditional one with Mac.

Now, with the season behind them and Evers looking forward to next year, he also reflected on the past and the success this year's group of seniors, Thompson, Drake Littlefield, Sam Riley, Zach Richards, and Noah Duve had during their time at FGHS.

"I loved our Seniors," the coach said. "These seniors are very good people and will move on to terrific careers and be great human beings."

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