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Cougars go perfect 9-0 to win Country Christian tournament, head into next season with strong returning core

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais junior Lilly Welburn will take on a larger role as the Cougars lead interior defender next year with the transfer of former teammate Mary Davidson to St. Paul.The current era of success for the Gervais girls basketball program was punctuated on Feb. 18, 2017 at Sprague High School.

Coming off of a multi-year period in which the team struggled to get wins and stay competitive at the 3A level, that 2016-17 team ended its season by finishing fifth in the PacWest Conference, winning back-to-back league playoff games on the road earn the league's third playoff berth and put Gervais in the state tournament for the first time in years.

PMG FILE PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Isabelle Vasquez's game-winning layup against the Scio Loggers in the 2017 PacWest league playoffs put Gervais back in the state playoffs after a five-year absence.The seminal moment from that season was the team playoff-clinching win over the Scio Loggers, in which a then-freshman Isabelle Vasquez hit the go-ahead layup at the buzzer to lift the Cougars to a 26-24 victory.

"I was thinking about that the other day," Gervais head coach Kyle Buse said. "It's crazy to think that the Scio win and going to state for the first time in a long time was three years ago."

Now the team's lone senior heading into the winter season, Vasquez has one last opportunity with the team to continue building on that success and make a run at the state quarterfinals next spring.

Since that defining moment, the Cougars have only gotten better, improving their win totals in each of the past two seasons, culminating in a second-place finish in the 2A Tri-River Conference this past season and another state playoff appearance.

Gervais has continued to build on that this summer, led by its core of Vasquez and juniors Araceli Vasquez, Lilly Welburn and Katie Hanson as part of eight returning players.

"We return a big core group, and they are motivated after last year," Buse said. "The girls have come out and played really well this summer."

The team is coming off of back-to-back successes at Country Christian High School's two annual summer league girls basketball tournaments.

Gervais went on a 9-0 run to win the tournament title last week, beating teams from Gladstone, St. Paul, Molalla and Burns, among others. The week before, the Cougars placed second.

"Passing the ball, moving, cutting, really the style we've been shooting for the last couple years," Buse said. "So it's kind of coming together. We're hoping that the summer leads into the next season."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais junior Marisol Ayala and her basketball teammates help conduct the Cougars' annual Hoop Camp each summer.In addition to the returning starters, Gervais brings back junior reserves Isabel Contreras and Marisol Ayala, as well as incoming sophomores Salma Villegas and Mayra Perez.

Noticeably absent is junior post Mary Davidson, who transferred to St. Paul after the end of the school year. While Davidson has been a valuable part of the team's success the past two years, the Cougars are adjusting in stride.

"It is a loss to lose Mary, and I think the girls are stepping up because of that," Buse said. "I think we're approaching it like we've lost someone due to graduation. Add one more senior to the list."

Much of Davidson's load will be transferred to Hanson and Welburn, the team's next-tallest players who, while undersized for their work load in the paint, are more than ready to take on the challenge.

"They took on a lot of defensive responsibilities this past weekend and the weekend before," Buse said. "I think things like that — taking on the best offensive player on the other team, is what fires them up."

But as juniors, they still have a bit of wiggle room to continue building and growing along with the rest of the team. This winter, the spotlight will fall squarely on Isabelle Vasquez and how the team will rally around its lone senior.

"I think that's definitely going to grow this year as we get closer to November," Buse said. "After she goes through her senior year of volleyball, and that kind of really hits her more of what that means."

After three years, the team is ready. Gervais has steadily grown into a basketball force to be reckoned with and when the team comes back together for the start of the 2019-20 season, they'll have their goal of making the quarterfinal tournament squarely in their sights.

"We're not the tallest and fastest, but when any of our five start gelling together on the court, it's a lot of fun to watch," Buse said. "They know they've got each other's backs, and they have a lot of fun doing that."PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais head coach Kyle Buse and junior Katie Hanson play a little 2-on-2 between sessions of the Cougar Hoop Camp last week. The event has been has grown over the years at Gervais High School, bringing in young athletes from the surrounding region to play and learn new basketball skills.


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