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Banks enjoys unprecedented athletic success

upon further review

Ho-hum. No big deal. Nothing to see here. It's just another top ten finish for a Banks sports team.

In case you missed it, the Banks girls beat Sisters in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon to finish third at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament in Eugene. It was the Lady Braves' third straight appearance at the state tourney and second consecutive top three finish, following last year's runner-up performance.

Oh yeah, and there was also that second-place finish in the 2010 state softball playoffs, the fifth-place effort at the 2009 state cross country championships, and the sixth-place showing at last year's girls basketball tournament.

And what about the Banks boys? All they've done in the last four years is finish second in the 2008 football playoffs, second at the 2011 state track and field meet, third at the 2010 state track meet, and seventh at last year's boys basketball tournament.

Not bad for the smallest Class 4A school in the state.

That's right, with only 378 students, Banks was small enough to fall within the boundaries of the 3A classification during the OSAA's last redistricting process in 2010, but the school elected to stay at 4A in order to preserve its traditional rivalries and its membership in the Cowapa League.

By comparison, Crook County, the team that beat Banks in the state semifinals on Friday and went on to win its sixth straight state volleyball championship, has an enrollment of 755.

Not exactly a level playing field.

So what are they putting in the water out in Banks that has led to this sudden surge of athletic accomplishment?

Probably nothing, but the school is enjoying an unprecedented wave of athletic talent, starting with the group of girls that has put Banks back on the map.

The current run of three straight appearances at the state volleyball tournament began in 2009 with a team comprised only of freshmen and sophomores. That core group - to wit, now-seniors Marla Gooding, Melissa Masters, Chelsie Bunn, Natalie Larsen, Abby Hardie and Jennifer Hilger, plus current juniors Aubrey Rue, Kaylin Vandomelen, Lexi Chung, Alexis Applebee and Samantha Duyck - stuck together and laid the foundation for consecutive top three finishes in the state volleyball playoffs, and many of the same girls were members of last year's basketball team that qualified for the state tournament for the first time in school history.

Not surprisingly, many of those same girls played on the Banks softball teams that won back-to-back-to-back league championships and finished second in the state in 2010.

As much as the Lady Braves have enjoyed their recent athletic success, they have also suffered because of it. The numerous league titles and impressive state playoff performances have come with the burden of increased expectations, and that reared its head last spring when the Banks softball team - owners of a 23-2 record and heavy favorites to return to the state title game - faltered unexpectedly in a first-round playoff loss to Molalla.

Some teams would have let that disappointment bleed through into future seasons, but this group accepted the loss, absorbed some key lessons from it, and came back stronger than ever.

'We struggled a little bit (in the first round of the volleyball playoffs) against Madras, and I think the girls carried some of the pressure from that softball loss into the match,' said Banks volleyball coach Suzanne Alley.

'But once they got that monkey off their backs and got back to the state tournament, they started to hit their stride, and I think that's going to carry over into basketball and softball this year.'

- Zack Palmer is the sports editor of the News-Times.