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The Junior Bulldogs defeated Tualatin to claim the state title, building their program for the future.

The Woodburn Junior Bulldogs defeated Tualatin March 5 and 6 to claim an AAU championship and cap off a 35-6 season. The team, made up of almost entirely seventh-graders and one sixth-grader, was initially ranked 23rd out of the 25 teams competing in the Silver classification of Oregon Amateur Basketball competitors.

The team was challenged by coach Henry Aguirre to improve their initial ranking and make competing against them a rough outing for any opponent.

"I'm like, 'You guys know who could change this?'" Aguirre said. "And they're like, 'Yeah, us.' I was like, 'OK, we're going to change that' and I kind of told them I want Woodburn being known for being a hard-nosed defense and whenever they're going to play us to be like, 'Dang, we're going to play Woodburn,' and it kind of became that."

COURTESY PHOTO - Woodburns seventh grade team celebrates its state championship victory.

The team used plays passed down by the high school program in a way to make the transition more seamless from middle school competition to the high school level. Aguirre communicated with Woodburn High School assistant basketball coach Tony Carrasquillo, and on occasion had the high school coaches and players come out to AAU games. Those appearances meant a lot to the seventh- and sixth-graders on the team.

"I told the kids, I'm like, 'Hey, I'm letting you guys know the high school coaches are here,'" Aguirre said. "'I'm not telling you so you guys get nervous or anything, I'm telling you guys so you guys can show out.' And the kids were super excited, and they played super hard and so they really enjoyed that. And then after that, a couple of the kids from the high school team came and told them 'good job,' shook their hands and stuff, and they really liked that experience."

The grind never stops. The kids are still competing in spring competitions. Later in the year, when Woodburn High School makes the step back up into the 5A classification, that will have an effect on where the Woodburn Junior Bulldogs compete.

Oregon Amateur Basketball says that 6A and 5A feeder top teams must compete in the Gold Division, while the Silver Division is for 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A feeder teams. 6A and 5A "B" teams will also compete in the Silver Division. According to Aguirre, that transition won't be as difficult because the Junior Bulldogs previously competed in the Gold Division.

"We're going to play gold, and actually this year we played gold a couple tournaments and we went 2-2, we lost to a team that we had already beat," Aguirre said. "So we played gold, we've hung with them right there. If we win, we win by like 10 points or whatever, if we lose, we lose under 10. I'm hoping that we could do maybe just as well in gold. If not, I just know it's going to be tougher for them. But yeah, I hope that we can make some noise in the gold division now."

Aguirre will continue to coach the team as it transitions into eighth-grade competition, starting with his twin sons, who compete for the team. The collective of French Prairie Middle Schoolers, Valor Middle Schoolers and St. Luke School attendees competed over the weekend in the Easter Saturday Shootout in Salem on April 16, after the Independent went to press.

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