one terrific tandem

The Banks High School softball program continues to churn out talented players, like seniors Melissa Masters and Marla Gooding, who each signed a Division I letter of intent last week

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that two of the best Banks High School athletes in recent memory first met on an athletic court.

Seniors Melissa Masters and Marla Gooding - who star in

volleyball, basketball and softball for the Lady Braves - met as grade-schoolers while playing tetherball.

'We were both the little tetherball champions of two courts,' recalled Gooding.

They have played sports with and against each other going back as far as third grade. As freshmen at Banks, they played on the junior varsity volleyball team and have been varsity stalwarts in all three sports every season since. They have accumulated numerous individual honors and helped the Lady Braves to state trophies on four separate occasions.

With the clock ticking on their final two seasons of high school play, Gooding said the plan is to take everything one game at a time, but it's hard to imagine that a state championship is not on their minds.

'I know my biggest goal is going to be to make it back to the state tournament for basketball and try and make it as far as possible because I want to end that season on a win like we did for volleyball,' said Masters, who, like Gooding, spent this past weekend in Huntington, Calif., for a softball tournament.

'And for softball, I'm hoping that we can get to the state championship (game) again because I know that we have the potential to do that.'

During their three-plus years at Banks, Masters and Gooding have come oh-so-close to state titles. As sophomores, they played in the OSAA Class 4A softball state championship game, when the Lady Braves dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to Cascade.

In the fall of 2010, the duo again helped Banks place second in state, this time in volleyball. And earlier this month, Masters, an outside hitter, and Gooding, a setter, capped their volleyball careers with a third-place trophy. In each of the past two state tournaments, the only team Banks lost to was Crook County, an Oregon prep powerhouse program that has now won six consecutive state titles.

For their other state trophy, Gooding and Masters, who are close friends, helped the Lady Braves place sixth in the Class 4A girls basketball tournament in March for the program's first-ever basketball trophy.

Clearly, if everything they touch does not turn to gold, it comes close.

'I think it's not just Banks softball that they've impacted, it's pretty much everything that they're involved with,' Banks softball coach Jenny Compton said. 'They're just really, really great girls, and they've worked very hard. They're very determined. They'll set out what they'd like to do, and they figure out what it takes to accomplish it and they make it happen.'

Not only are Masters and Gooding standout athletes - they will continue their softball careers in college at Portland State and Toledo, respectively - but they are also 4.0 students, are involved in school-related activities such as ASB and belong to the National Honor Society.

Playing all the same sports, and often in the same positions, could have been a recipe for resentment and jealousy, but the girls have opted instead for a cooperative relationship.

'We don't ever compete with each other because ... we're co-pitchers, we're co-point guards,' Masters explained. 'In everything we just work together.'

The blend of that attitude and the cumulative effect of playing sports together for so many years have created a bond and familiarity that manifests on the courts and the softball field.

'It's almost like we know each other's every move. When I'm playing shortstop and watching her pitch, I almost know what pitch she's going to throw next,' said Gooding, who alternates with Masters between those two positions on the softball diamond. 'Or basketball, I'll pass the ball, and I just know she's going to be there so I don't even have to look half the time.'

The softball field is where Gooding and Masters have shined the most for Banks. Both players have been First Team All-Cowapa League selections since their freshman year. In 2010, Masters was named the league's Pitcher of the Year, while Gooding was named Player of the Year. And this past spring, both were First Team All-State picks.

On the mound, their deliveries differ somewhat, Compton said, but both have a number of tools in their arsenal: movement, the ability to hit their spots, some speed and a solid changeup.

'That's a pretty deadly pitch right there,' Compton noted. 'When you can throw that and then come back with something that's got a little bit of heat and some movement, then it really keeps batters on their toes because they're not sure what to expect next.'

What can be expected, though, is an effort for Masters and Gooding to conclude their high school careers on a high note. Both are motivated to end their senior softball season in a more positive fashion than last year, when the Lady Braves were unexpectedly bounced out of the postseason by Molalla during the play-in round.

'We don't want to end our season - high school career - on a loss and knowing that we could have done better, because that's kind of how it felt last year and it was a bitter end to the season,' Masters said of herself and the three other senior softball players.

At least for Gooding, that loss translated into a concerted effort to improve for this year, which will not come as good news to the Lady Braves' opponents.

'This summer I was playing summer ball - and that's my No. 1 priority - but I kept thinking about that game and every practice trying to get better, so when it comes to high school season that I'll make my team that much better,' Gooding said.

No matter the eventual outcome, the softball season should be an exciting conclusion to two athletic careers that became intertwined so many years ago.

'We have everything that we need,' Masters said. 'We just need to do it. We just need to prove to ourselves that we can.'