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Reaching new heights

A year after making their state tourney debut, the Lady Braves stage an unexpected run to the Class 4A championship match

The Banks softball team's second-place finish in last year's state playoffs may have been easy to predict after the Lady Braves went undefeated in league play and lost only two games all season.

The Banks volleyball team's second-place finish in the state playoffs last fall, on the other hand ... well, let's just say not everybody saw that coming.

The Lady Braves surprised a lot of people last November with a stirring run to the state championship match, finishing second in the Cowapa League and winning three playoff games before eventually falling in the finals to Crook County, the four-time defending Class 5A state champions who were moved back down to 4A before the season.

'I'm proud of them. They had a good tournament,' Banks head coach Suzanne Alley said. 'They've got nothing to hang their heads about. I think this game will just drive them for next season.'

The Lady Braves already showed how far a program can go in one year. Last season, with a roster of mostly freshmen and sophomores, Banks earned its first trip to the state tournament since 2002, but was abruptly bounced after two quick losses.

This season, a year wiser and more experienced, the Lady Braves played their way into the title game with a sweep of Central in the quarterfinals and a four-game win over league rival Astoria in the semifinals.

'We came in here last year and were out of here by Saturday morning,' Alley said of the Braves' early exit in 2009. 'We had all this food money left over. This year we're out of food money, we had to get extra nights in the hotel, we had four girls on the all-tournament team. That's a big leap. That's not just a small leap, that's a huge leap, and I'm proud of them. I expect that same big leap again next year.'

Alley has good reason to believe that the Braves will be back in the state tournament next year - of the 11 players on the Banks roster, none are seniors.