Banks rules 4A roost with state Players of the Year
A roller coaster of a year took a final turn for the better recently when the Banks Braves boys and girls basketball teams received some good news.
Following a winter campaign that saw both Braves teams ranked in the top five for much, if not all, of the season, suffer through injury, then ultimately heartbreak at February's state tournament in Forest Grove, Banks learned that standouts Dalton Renne and Aspen Slifka had been named the 4A State Players of the Year.
Renne, voted also as the Cowapa League Player of the Year, led the Braves to a Cowapa League championship, then on a run to the state semifinals before being forced from the game in the first quarter due to a neck and shoulder injury. With its 6-foot-6 star out of the lineup, Banks suffered a narrow loss to Valley Catholic and fell to Newport a day later in the third-place game, with Renne relegated to watching from the sidelines as everything he and his team had worked for went rapidly down the drain.
"At first it haunted me, and it was a tough couple of weeks, but once baseball got going, I was able to go focus on a sport," said Renne. "Ultimately, it is what it is, and you have to move forward."
When he got the news of his selection, Renne said he was happy and a bit surprised, but he also felt it validated all the hard work he and his teammates had put in during the offseason.
"A couple years ago, I didn't even see myself being our league Player of the Year," Renne said. "The league is always tough and there are great players in this league, so I couldn't imagine myself being at that point, so the state Player of the Year wasn't even on my mind. It's crazy how it all happened."
Banks head coach Marcus Roche is proud of Renne for what he achieved.
"Dalton had such an incredible year and was such a versatile player that made huge plays for us all year long," said Roche. "His ability to manufacture offense with his scoring and passing ability, along with his length and anticipation on defense, was a tremendous part of what led us to a Cowapa League title and a state semifinal run. It was really great to see him get voted as the 4A State Player of the Year."
Renne said he is extremely grateful to his youth coaches, Dan Streblow and Lisa Geraci among others, for setting the table for him as he reached the high school level. He is also thankful for his teammates who made all of his success possible.
"I couldn't have done that without my teammates," said Renne. "They were a big part of the player I was and the success I had."
Slifka, a junior, was equally honored by her selection and humbled by something she too struggled to imagine. While being named state Player of the Year was a goal of hers, she knew it was a lofty one — and one she certainly wasn't expecting to reach as a junior.
"I was surprised," Slifka said. "There's a lot of good competition and a lot of really good players in the 4A, so it was really cool. It was something I was aiming for, but I really didn't expect it to happen."
The 6-foot senior-to-be started playing basketball in the third grade and was coached and encouraged to play by her mother and sister. Since then, she's blossomed into a well-rounded player capable of changing a game on either end of the court. During the state basketball tournament earlier this year, Slifka averaged 30.7 points and 5.3 steals per game, while shooting 59 percent from the field and 55 percent from three point range. She scored 92 points over the three games, 38 more than her closest competition.
As one might expect, Slifka is getting attention from college recruiters in and around the Pacific Northwest. Despite that, she continues to focus on getting better and preparing for her final year at Banks.
"I'm really excited for next year," she said. "We hope to build a lot of chemistry this summer and are really excited about the incoming freshmen and growing as a team."
Slifka plans on playing basketball this summer with her club team, Oregon Elite, and continuing to build upon the many skills the game has already taught her: leadership, communication, and teamwork.
"Basketball has become a huge part of my life," Slifka said.
She credits much of her success to her teammates, but also Banks head coach Brandon Begley, whom she said always been there for her both on and off the court.
"Begley has had a huge impact on me," said Slifka. "He was always around during youth basketball and at our practices and did all sorts of clinics growing up, and he's been one of my biggest supporters. He's a big part of who I am as a player and person today."
And Begley is equally complimentary of his player, speaking glowingly throughout the year about Slifka's progression on the court.
"Aspen was amazing for us this year," he said. "She really worked hard in the offseason to get better and she came in with a lot of confidence."
The coach sculpted a role for Slifka this season designed around creating the most scoring opportunities possible, either for herself or for her teammates. She answered her coach's call by balancing both her scoring and assists, averaging 21 points per game while dishing out nearly seven assists. But with her senior season ahead, Begley is even more excited to see what level she can take it to next year.
"We're thrilled that we have another season with Aspen," Begley said. "She is excited to get into the gym this offseason and work on her areas of weakness so that she can come in even better next year. I'm excited to see what she can do next year."
While Slifka returns, Renne has played his last game for the Banks Braves — and likely his last game for some time to come. The standout pitching prospect recently tore ligaments in his throwing elbow and is slated for upcoming "Tommy John" surgery, which will replace his ulnar collateral ligament. He'll take a year off to recover, but he hopes to play baseball collegiately the following season.
Despite his season-ending injuries this year, Renne understands how privileged he was to play in and for Banks, and he won't soon forget the experience and how much it meant to him.
"It was an amazing ride," he said. "It's such a great community. Everyone follows and supports us, and the town rallies together. It's just a great place to go to school."
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