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The Lincoln log

Prep Focus • Cardinals soared during season, were stopped midflight at state
by: ©2008 MATTHEW GINN, Left: Senior Iris Lerch (middle) celebrates with teammates after Lincoln’s March 1 win over Reynolds, which put the Cardinals in the state tournament.

It began with the first tryout Nov. 5 and ended last Saturday at Chiles Center, with tearful players walking out of the locker room to the applause of family and friends.

I was with the Lincoln High girls basketball team from start to finish, working on a multimedia project that would document the commitment and effort it takes to be a successful team.

Coach Jeff Peeler, who also serves as Lincoln's athletic director, agreed to give me access to the team's most public and private moments. I photographed 25 of the 29 games, plus initiation night for the new varsity players, a team dinner and several of the practices.

Year in the making

The seeds for this year's Cardinals were sown in the 2004-05 season, when Peeler took over as head coach and welcomed five talented freshmen -Kelsey Goodell, Makenzie Blythe, Iris Lerch, Tresa Palmer and Mariella Ballato (Blair Jones transferred from Sunset in 2007 and also was a senior this season).

These players and their teammates were good enough to place sixth in last week's Class 6A state tournament, after sweeping all 12 of their PIL league games. And what made that so remarkable is that the Cardinals did it without a superstar or surefire Division I player.

In fact, I suspect that, for most of the girls, being on the team was more about hanging out with one another than the sport itself. After countless hours of practicing, playing and traveling together -for both summer basketball and the winter prep season -the group has grown very close.

It's often difficult for people to relax when an outsider with a camera and microphone is thrown into the mix. Some of the girls seemed a bit uncomfortable at first, while others were a bit too comfortable, mugging and posing for the camera. But by the first game, my presence was accepted -even expected.

Goal stayed the same

Throughout the season, the team was focused on the playoffs. There was a sense of destiny in the air March 1, when Lincoln advanced to the state tournament by winning 46-37 over a formidable Reynolds team.

Less than a week later, the team came crashing down to earth with a first-round tournament loss to Sunset 33-31 in the final seconds. The scene in the locker room after the game was very emotional and difficult to photograph.

But the girls bounced back the next morning, extending their season with a come-from-behind, 47-40 victory over North Medford.

The next day brought the finale, the last time they would play as one and, for the seniors, the end to their Lincoln basketball careers. The Cardinals never really got it together in their shot at fourth place. They fell to South Eugene 54-37. It was their second-largest margin of defeat in a 21-8 season.

After that game, the girls stayed in the locker room for a long, long time. When they finally left, I noticed one person was missing. I opened the door and saw Peeler sitting on a doctor's table, quietly crying. He blew his nose and then moved to a bench in the main part of the room. I made two photos and left without saying a word.

A couple of days later, I asked him when his thoughts would shift to the next season.

'It's already beginning,' he said. 'You're constantly trying to improve.'

Matthew Ginn is an independent photojournalist and multimedia producer in Portland. You can see and hear more photos and stories from this project at www.TrilliumMediaServices.com/Cardinals