McLoughlin High School’s girls basketball team suffered through a difficult 2014-15 season in which it went winless in six Greater Oregon League games and was 3-17 overall.
But the 2015-16 squad — led by seniors Shannon Carter, Kitanya Crisman, Brittney Erb, Sam Tvveidt, and Abi Biggs — achieved upward mobility on three fronts.
It broke through in the GOL win column, fashioned a winning record, and competed in an Oregon Class 4A state play-in game.
“We had a group of seniors who were really committed and put in a lot of work in the offseason,” former Mac-Hi coach Brooke (Garton) Michaud said. “They were good at recruiting peers that were good athletes.
The team possessed four juniors — Cynthia Flores, Vilde Roemo, Brooke Smiley, and Sydney Richwine — and an equal number of sophomores — Becca Jones, Melissa Martinez, Brianna Hernandez, and McKenna Yensen.
“It was a cohesive unit that played together,” Michaud said.
That cohesiveness was on display in a season-opening victory over Culver, 43-38, at the Sherman County tournament.
“It was close right down to the wire,” Michaud said. “We had to fight for the win. It was an impactful game — influential in how the rest of the season went and proved we could win a close game.”
The win began a stretch of topsy-turvy results. Mac-Hi stood 4-4 after twice winning two games, then losing two games.
The Pioneers followed the roller-coaster ride with a three-game winning streak. They defeated host Pilot Rock in the Rocket Invite, then toppled Irrigon and Riverside.
“The cool part (about the Pilot Rock triumph) was that the girls started to come together,” Michaud said. “Scoring was spread out. The girls had trust in one another.”
After a one-sided loss at Umatilla, Mac-Hi ripped off four conquests in succession, topping DeSales, Waitsburg, Ontario in its GOL opener, and Riverside. The former and latter victories in the streak were decided by a combined six points.
“DeSales had been a hard team for us to beat,” Michaud said. “It was a huge deal and a confidence booster going into the Ontario game.”
Late January and early February were unkind to the Pioneers. Mac-Hi dropped five of its last six regular-season games. The lone bright spot was a second win against Ontario.
Despite the late-season slump, a berth beyond the GOL tournament was still possible.
“We kept an eye on the rankings,” Michaud said. “If our ranking was high enough (at least in the top 24), we’d have a chance to get into a play-in game.”
The Pioneers ended Ontario’s season after defeating the Tigers in the opening phase of the league tournament — a game held in the Mac-Hi gym.
“We were excited to have that opportunity,” Michaud said. “We had a full gym to play in front of that day. It was an exciting game — high energy.”
A GOL tournament loss to Baker appeared to end the Pioneers’ campaign. But the team continued to practice in case a top-24 ranking was in the offing.
After a handful of nerve-wracking days, Mac-Hi’s dream came true after achieving a No. 23 state ranking.
“It was a weird situation,” Michaud said. “We were holding on to hope — waiting and waiting. I hit (a computer) refresh button so many times.”
The season concluded after a play-in loss to Valley Catholic.
“It was hard to have the season end,” Michaud said. “We had a lot of younger kids in the community that looked up to those girls.”
“They were able to put aside the ‘me-me’ attitude and played as a team,” Michaud said upon final reflection. “It was a special group of girls that found a way to work together. We were lucky to have them.”
Roy Elia can be reached at email@example.com.