West Linn boys basketball reacts to state tournament cancellation
Pick your own adjective, but none of them do justice to what the West Linn boys basketball team was feeling after it learned that the Class 6A state tournament had been canceled.
The Lions had just put together back-to-back wins in the state playoffs — including a 68-50 upset of No. 8 Mountainside — to earn their first tournament berth since 2017.
But then, at approximately 11:30 a.m. Thursday, March 12 — just two hours before West Linn was scheduled to tip off its tournament against top-ranked Jesuit at the Chiles Center — the OSAA added a banner to its website that read "COVID-19 UPDATE: After consulting with schools and venue partners, the OSAA is canceling all remaining Winter State Championships; more information to follow."
There was indeed more information to follow, but none of it mattered to the Lions — their season was over.
"We were just about to head out of the high school to head to the Chiles Center when coach (Eric Viuhkola) pulled us into a huddle and simply said 'OSAA just canceled the tournament,'" said West Linn senior post Joe Juhala. "I asked him if that meant our season was over, and he said 'Yes.'"
"Once we heard the news, we were just shocked as a team, and at a loss of words," said West Linn senior guard Grant Johnson, one of nine seniors on the Lions' roster. "Since our team is mostly seniors, it really hit us differently."
"After I gave them the news … some of the kids were outwardly emotional with tears and anger, while others looked stunned and were questioning why (they could) attend school but can't play in a game," Viuhkola said.
In addition to erasing the Class 6A boys basketball tournament, the statewide reaction to COVID-19 also stopped the Class 6A girls tournament and both Class 5A tourneys in process — six of 11 games had already been played in each — and wiped out the Class 4A state basketball championships completely, as well as the Dance/Drill championship set for Saturday, March 21.
The initial announcement was followed by an OSAA press release that read, in part:
The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) has cancelled all remaining Winter State Championships. This includes the remaining Basketball (effective immediately) and Dance/Drill State Championships.
"As this unprecedented public health emergency continues to evolve, we believe that the responsibility to our member schools and communities regarding the health and safety of participants remains our highest priority," said Peter Weber, OSAA Executive Director.
This news comes after the Pac-12, along with other major collegiate conferences and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), canceled their men's basketball tournament and all other sporting events until further notice due to COVID-19.
The OSAA will continue to collaborate with Oregon's public health authorities, including guidance from the Governor, OHA, and ODE in order to help slow the transmission of the coronavirus.
Those marked the latest in a number of rapidly changing decisions from the OSAA following Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's Wednesday, March 11, order banning gatherings of more than 250 people.
But none of that mattered to the Lions. After battling to second place in the Three Rivers League at 8-4, they'd won twice in the playoffs, improved to 17-9 and earned a tourney berth in Viuhkola's first season back with the team since 2016.
"I don't think we all have quite yet processed the information, but we all were heartbroken to say the least," Juhala said. "Those who won't be playing college ball I feel the worst for, because this might be the last time they ever play competitive ball and they deserved better than this."
"We worked so hard the whole season and we didn't get a chance to play in the Chiles Center in the state tournament," Johnson said. "It's just sad how our senior season had to end like this."
The 2020 season will mark the first time that Oregon has not completed all its boys basketball state championships since it began hosting events in 1919, and the first time it has not completed all its girls championships since it began hosting those in 1976.
"As a senior, it hurts the most because of all the years I spent growing up playing in the driveway, imagining myself playing in a state championship game for West Linn," Juhala said. "It hurts the most knowing that (playing) for our city on the big stage will never happen."
"The cherry on top of this fiasco was that we weren't even going to get to play it out and see what we could have accomplished," Viuhkola said. "Obviously, I really feel for our seniors — they've worked their butts off to accomplish their goals and then it was ripped away from them."
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