After beating rival Franklin 84-71 on Tuesday, the Cleveland girls basketball team raved about coach Gaye Chapman.
'She's the difference this season,' says Sabrina Ezzat, who scored 13 points in the win. 'She's made us believe all season that we can win and go to the state playoffs. And it's really starting to come together for our team.'
Cleveland is the lone Portland Interscholastic League school that has never qualified for the playoffs in girls basketball.
'My goal from the beginning of the season was to get there,' says Chapman, once a college assistant at Temple. 'It's taken the girls a little while to see the value of things like working hard in practice, but it's working. They're getting it, and that's showing up on the court.'
Cleveland went 1-3 in league games in December, losing to Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson by an average of 20 points. The Warriors are 3-0 in league games in January, including a 61-50 win over Grant on Jan. 7, believed to be the Warriors' first victory over the Generals in 10 years.
Junior forward Mia Skolnick has averaged 24 points per game in the past five games.
Cleveland's win over visiting Franklin, a game that featured 75 free throws, created a five-way tie for third place in the PIL, with the Warriors, Benson, Grant, Franklin and Jefferson at 4-3, behind Lincoln (7-0) and Wilson (6-1).
Cleveland plays at Benson tonight. Last season, Benson beat Cleveland by 65 points in one game. Grant is at Jeff, and Lincoln is at Wilson in other key games.
• Jefferson's boys game against Hillsboro, set for 7 p.m. Saturday, might have drawn well at the Chiles Center had the Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational been played on the University of Portland campus. But tournament organizer Marshall Haskins, who is also the Demos' coach, says he's happy to have the tourney remain at Jeff.
'I get a lot of input that says go to the Chiles Center, but I think it's better to be a big fish in a small pond,' Haskins says. 'Having people strain to get into our gym, that'll add to the atmosphere.'
The Demos are ranked No. 2 in the state, while Hillsboro is No. 3. Benson and Grant also are set to play in the tourney, which has five games that begin at 11 a.m. with a girls game between Oregon City and Jefferson.