It was quite the turnaround season for the Tualatin High School girls basketball team.
That very well may be an understatement.
And, the Timberwolves say, the best may be yet to come.
Tualatin, which went 9-16 (5-9 in Three Rivers League play) in the 2018-19 season, and started the 2019-20 season with a new coach, and new system, turned out to be one of the surprise teams in the state. The Wolves ended up placing third in the final Three Rivers League standings at 9-5, while going 19-7 on the season, while also holding the No. 8 spot in the final OSAA power rankings. Tualatin also finished just one win away from reaching the Class 6A state tournament for the first time since 2009.
"We had a fantastic season," Tualatin coach Wes Pappas said. "On paper, this should have been a down year. We lost five of eight, in terms of rotation, including an all-league kid (Natali Denning), from last year's squad. But we went on to win 10 more games than last year. We were 27th in the rankings last year, and we went to eighth this year. It is phenomenal. It was a great year. We accomplished a lot."
"It was really good," Tualatin junior guard Kasidy Javernick said following the Wolves' 51-38 loss to Southridge in a Class 6A second-round state playoff game. "This year, we were just looking to rebuild, with a new coach, new program, new system, but we got farther than expected, and it was great."
"This was awesome," Tualatin junior post Natalie Lathrop said. "We got farther than expected, and being ranked eighth in the state, by the OSAA, that was just cool to see."
What turned things around? After all, Tualatin didn't have any hotshot transfers, mainly just a roster of players who were already part of the program.
"We just worked really hard," Javernick said. "We wanted to get good in our system, and play for our seniors, and we did that."
"I think we all really came together this year," Lathrop said. "We got (senior) Sophie Bennett, again, and got Tabi (Searle), who is an amazing player, and Olivia (Poulivaati) is going to be back next year, and she's going to do awesome. Every day, at practice, everyone wanted to be there, and that's really cool."
The 6-foot-3 Lathrop also looked to be key to the Tualatin turnaround, as she seemed to step up in a big way in her junior season, earning All-Three Rivers League first-team honors.
While Lathrop had big games throughout the season, her most-impressive performance may have come in a 66-40 home win over St. Mary's Academy back on Feb. 11. In that contest, Lathrop scored 35 points, shooting at a 14-for-14 clip from the field. She also had 17 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in the victory.
"I've been playing with a lot of these girls, all the juniors, for a long time, some of them since I was in kindergarten," Lathrop said. "So, for all of us, it's been a long journey, so it's been really cool."
Javernick and fellow junior Sidney Dering provided strong all-around play for the Wolves — scoring, passing, rebounding, defense. Dering was a second-team all-league selection, while Javernick was an honorable-mention pick.
"It was really fun," Javernick said. "We had a lot of fun with each other, and we had a great environment."
Tualatin also boasted plenty of depth, with key players such as junior guard Aurora Davis, who was maybe the team's top outside shooter, junior guard Teagan Gaviola, sophomore post Lusi Tapasa and junior guard Brook Burke. The Wolves did have a couple crucial newcomers in Searle, a freshman guard, and Bennett, a senior guard, who returned to the team after not playing as a sophomore.
Other players on the roster include senior guard Sophie Wong, who missed the last part of the season due to injury, freshman guard Avery Porter and sophomore guard Braquelle Blanchard.
Tualatin, in the 2019-20 season, went 18-6 in the regular season. The Wolves then opened the state playoffs with a dramatic 50-40 double-overtime win over Clackamas in a Class 6A state playoff first-round game played at Tualatin High School. In that contest, Tualatin rallied back late in regulation play, and then again in the first overtime session, before getting the victory.
The Wolves saw their season end with the second-round playoff loss to Southridge, a team that had a lot of postseason experience.
"It was so fun. It was the most fun basketball season I've every played in.," Lathrop said. "I love my team and I love my coaches. It's been awesome."
"We're going to take it," Pappas said of the 2019-20 campaign. "We're happy with our season, and we think it's a building block for next year, and beyond."
Speaking of next year, it looks like it could be a fun one for the Wolves. Tualatin will graduate just two seniors, Bennett and Wong, meanwhile, the athletic Poulivaati could be in action after missing her entire freshman season due to a knee injury.
"Now, next year, we're looking ahead to it already," Pappas said. "Of our nine-person rotation, we've got eight coming back, and also a freshman, Olivia Poulivaati, who missed this year, so, it's really nine of 10. We return as much talent as anyone in the state. You kind of have to go through what we went through this year."
"We're really looking forward to it," Javernick said. "We lose our two seniors, but we're just going to battle hard, and try and get to the Chiles Center next season."
"It's going to be hard, without Sophie and Sophie, they've obviously been a huge part of the team this year, but, with Olivia playing, and with a lot of us returning, I think it's going to be a good year," Lathrop said.
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.