Liberty's season cut short by cancellation of state tournament
Life's not fair. That became evident to the entire Liberty basketball family Thursday, March 12, when just a day removed from an impressive state quarterfinal win over Mountainside, the Falcons girls basketball team was informed that their season was over. However, not at the hands of their semifinal opponent, the No. 1-ranked Beaverton Beavers, but rather as a result of COVID-19, the coronavirus that's thrown life as we know it into flux.
As you would expect, this news didn't sit well with the team and coaches who've spent this season, last offseason, and the bulk of their high school careers working for the opportunity which at least for a time was now before them.
"All of our girls and coaches are very upset and hurt by the cancellation of the tournament," Liberty head coach Melanie Wagoner said. "As a group, our kids have been playing together for years and worked really hard to get a chance to be in the playoffs and make a run for it.
"They have stayed focused and excited about the opportunity in front of them. After playing well as a group in the first game at the Chile's Center, we were really excited for the next challenge on Friday afternoon."
That challenge was top-ranked Beaverton, who was 23-4 overall, hadn't lost to a team from the state of Oregon yet this season, and was riding a 19-game winning streak into their semifinal game with Liberty, which had been scheduled for the afternoon of March 13. But in the wake of dominating Mountainside a day earlier, Wagoner said her girls weren't in fear of the tournament's No. 1-seed, but rather relishing the chance to prove they belonged on Oregon's biggest basketball stage.
"We were part of the final four teams in the state and about to play top ranked Beaverton," Wagoner said. "Our school and our fans were also excellent and bringing so much energy and excitement to the games. It is a big blow for our team and supporters. We were disappointed when we found out that spectators could not be at the game, but nothing like how it felt to find out the games won't be played."
Liberty isn't alone either, similarly teams across the state are experiencing the same emotions of that of the Falcons. Coaches and players from Beaverton, South Salem and South Medford in the 6A, along with Wilsonville, La Salle, Crater and Silverton in the 5A, and the entire 4A bracket on the girls side. Not to mention 5A's Wilsonville, Churchill, Crater and Silverton on the boys side, along with the entire 4A and 6A bracket which never got started, are left with the same empty feeling tied to the inability to finish what they started months, and in some cases, years ago.
"It is hard to believe and we are sad for our team along with the other teams that don't get a chance to play," Wagoner said. "Beaverton, similar to us has some key seniors who have been working really hard to get back to this point and I am sure that they are also upset."
Since the cancellation, talk has circulated about the possibility of resuming the tournaments at a later date, however OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber was quick to shoot that down in an email exchange Friday morning.
"The events were canceled and won't be played at a later date," Weber wrote. "Tough situation all around, (and I) feel especially bad for the students and communities."
Liberty athletic director Alan Foster echoed the sadness of his coach and players in the wake of the decision to cancel the tournament, but didn't want the unfortunate end to take away from what was a tremendous year, full of tremendous kids.
"We have some super special kids here at Liberty and our girls basketball team is evidence of that," Foster said. "They have done something magical this year. You can see that magic in their eyes and you can feel it in the gym. I am so proud of these kids and know that they will rebound from this disappointment and grow everyone around them bigger, better and stronger."
Foster went on to say that from the time the team arrived at the Chiles Center for the tournament this past week, everything seemed to be aligning for the team regarding their chances for success. From the overall attitude of the coaches and players, to a sign he took note of in the locker room that read: LISTEN TO ME GIRLS…you are LOVED; you are BEAUTIFUL; you are STRONG; you inspire those around you EVERY DAY; you are magical and strong and lift everyone up around you.
"This sign led me to know and believe that it applied to our girls, to our Liberty kids, coaches and families."
In the end, what's done is done. But despite what can only be described as heartbreaking for everyone involved, the disappointing end can't take away the pride and togetherness that Wagoner and the students and staff at Liberty have in their team.
"We have a very special group of girls on our team and we came together when we all found out," the coach said. "Other students and staff at Liberty were quick to offer support and share how proud of our girls they are and how much of an impact they have made at Liberty. We know it all comes to an end, but we didn't expect it would end this way. We know the cancellations have been made, but we are still holding on to some hope that someway these games might get played."
Sadly, that appears unlikely to happen.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.