After six Top 10 finishes, Banks seniors finally get their state championship
When the 2012 softball season started, Banks head coach Jenny Compton pulled aside all 12 of her returning players and sat them down for what was supposed to be an informal chat about the year ahead.
Instead, the meeting became more like a group therapy session as, one by one, the players vented their frustrations about the way the previous season ended and listed all the adjustments that were needed to make sure it didn't happen again.
'We talked about last year and how much it was a disappointment,' Compton said, referring to the Braves' stunning and unexpected loss to Molalla in a 2011 state play-in game just one year after playing for a state title.
'Everybody had to talk about it and what went wrong. They had to share a little bit of that hurt so we could all move past it.'
Three months and 25 wins later, those same Banks players hoisted a trophy above their heads and celebrated not just a state championship, but a rise from the ashes.
'That was our rock bottom,' Compton said of last year's loss to Molalla. 'We learned that from disappointment there can be success, and we took it all the way to the top.'
Did they ever.
Banks rolled to a fourth straight Cowapa League title and then cruised to four postseason wins en route to a state championship, brushing away memories of past playoff failures, which included a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Cascade in the 2010 state title game, the loss to Molalla in 2011, plus a second-place finish in the 2010 state volleyball tournament and third-place finishes in both volleyball and basketball this year.
The Braves succeeded this year by compartmentalizing those losses and burying the memories, choosing instead to focus on the here and now.
'That meeting was the only time we discussed as a group about getting to the championship game. I never heard them talk about it again,' Compton said. 'The biggest thing for us was living for every moment - what can I do on this next pitch, or this next at-bat, to help us win?'
Lots of coaches say they tell their players to focus on one game at a time - typical, clichéd coach-speak - but this year's Banks team seemed to embrace that concept without any outside encouragement.
'No matter who we were playing, the girls were completely focused on that opponent,' Compton said. 'If we had a Friday doubleheader with a big game coming up the next week, I never heard them talking about that next game. It was always about living in each moment.'
The formula worked to perfection, as Banks lost just four games all year. Even when things looked grim, as they did in the first round of the playoffs when visiting McLoughlin took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 11th inning, the Braves never panicked. True to form, they rallied to win that game 4-3, and everything rolled downhill from there.
'We had the experience of knowing that we couldn't take anything for granted, and we learned from that experience,' senior Melissa Masters said.
Said fellow senior Natalie Larsen: 'When we fell short last year, coming into this season it made us very hungry. We were eager to cap it off with one more trophy.'
In the end, the tight-knit Braves reached the promised land, and they did it together.
'These girls have been playing together for so long, and playing multiple sports together, that you can tell how much they love being together,' Compton said. 'This is such an amazing group. I think they're all going to miss hanging out together.'
'The four of us seniors, especially, have become very close,' Larsen said. 'The camaraderie between us has just grown stronger and stronger every year.'
Senior Marla Gooding perhaps summed it up best: 'For the seniors, we've come so close in multiple sports. To win a state title, that's the best ending I could have ever asked for.'