The Woodburn boys basketball team was en route to the 4A quarterfinal site of Forest Grove High School on Thursday when news came down that the Oregon School Activities Association had decided to cancel the remainder of the Winter State Championships.
In the blink of an eye, the 13 members of the team went from anticipating the program's first back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in school history to swallowing the reality that the season had abruptly come to a close.
"When I got the call that they officially were going to cancel it — the players, like a lot of other teams, they broke down," Woodburn head coach Raul Veliz said. "There was a lot of emotion and sadness. They put in all the blood, sweat, tears, hard work and everything."
After graduating all but two players from last year's team that finished fifth in the 4A Classification, Woodburn (18-7) rallied behind a new class of players. More than half the players on the roster were entering their final season as seniors — many of whom bided their time at the JV level last year, eager to show what they could do in a prominent role this season.
Since a season-opening win over North Marion in December, the Bulldogs had largely remained in the top 10 of the OSAA 4A standings, finishing third in the Oregon West Conference and earning the 6-seed entering the state playoffs. Woodburn was set for a rematch against the No. 3 Huskies (20-5) in the opening of the quarterfinals Thursday night until Veliz got the call.
"We ask so much of them for the four-month season," Veliz said. "You really feel for them, because they do everything you ask — put in the hard work, dedicate themselves in the classroom and to basketball and conditioning."
But after the initial shock, the team rallied together and committed to what they came to do — play basketball.
Woodburn had stopped at a basketball facility on their way to the Final Eight site to get some practice in and loosen up before the tournament. It was the perfect place for the team to play through their emotions and spend one final opportunity to play with each other on the court.
"We said, 'let's bounce the ball and go play one more time,'" Veliz said. "If this is the end, let's scrimmage.
"It was kind of therapeutic," Veliz continued. "They were able to play the game, have some fun, and for that brief little time, they kind of forgot about it and remembered at the end of the day this is a game."
For 20 to 30 minutes, the Woodburn boys basketball team broke off into groups and played five-on-five. The final moments of the 2019-20 season for the Bulldogs were spent together, in an empty gym, going hard at each other like any other practice.
"It was cool to see them laughing and closing out the season with a game at the end," Veliz said. "That really helped a lot. We were fortunate enough to be at a place we could be there."
In the aftermath of the disappointment, Veliz wanted the Bulldogs to remember the brotherhood they built together through all the work they put in between the games. Regardless of how the 2019-20 season came to a close, the bonds built during the past four months are what the players will carry with them after they've all gone the route of graduation, not the points scored or the wins tallied.
"Don't get lost in trying to reach that goal that you forget about all the friendships and relationships we built with each other as a team," Veliz said. "All that is still part of this whole season.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't heartbroken, but I tried to tell them the sun comes up the next day and we have to understand that we're still fortunate to be where we're at," Veliz said. "A lot of times that can be just as valuable if not more valuable than the last game of the season."
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