Lady Viks will miss six seniors
Forest Grove's girls basketball program has been through a lot in the last five years. The Lady Vikings earned three straight state playoff berths from 2002-2005, including a magical run to a Pac-9 league championship during the 2004-05 season.
Then last season, armed with a roster plenty talented for another playoff run, the Lady Viks suddenly and unexpectedly plunged into mediocrity. That team would go on to finish fifth in the league - on the outside looking in when the state playoffs began.
So with another talented roster this year, the goal was to get back to the playoffs and regain some of the swagger from years past. And although the 2006-07 season had some ups and downs - most notably, two huge wins over third-place Canby and two crushing defeats to fifth-place McMinnville - the Lady Viks accomplished their goal, getting back to the state playoffs after a year-long hiatus and fulfilling the prophecy they had emblazoned on T-shirts earlier this year.
'We got playoff T-shirts made after we clinched a spot and the quote they wanted to put on the back was, 'We did it,'' said head coach Po Waiwaiole after the final regular season game against Canby. 'This group came out of the shadow of probably one of the best Forest Grove teams ever, and there was some doubt about whether they could come together and accomplish a goal like this.
'There were doubters, but they've come together and they did it. I'm real proud of them for that and I'm real privileged to have been part of the experience.'
Looking back, one of the biggest differences between the league championship team of 2005 and the squad that missed the playoffs the following year was the departure of seniors Rachel Aina and Lauren Sexton. That duo led Forest Grove in just about every offensive category and sparked the Vikings' playoff run, which ended in the third round against Central Catholic. Having to replace two crucial components of arguably the best team in school history was a lot to ask, and the Lady Vikings struggled as a result.
Next year, the Forest Grove girls program will have to endure a similar exodus, as last Tuesday's playoff loss marked the end of the road for six seniors, including All-League performers Sallye Alexander, Sarah Amina, Nikki Kemper and Amanda Godinez. Also graduating are guards Tina Freeman and Sarah Rivera.
Waiwaiole knows that replacing those players will be difficult - if not downright impossible.
Alexander, for example, was the fifth-leading scorer in the state - for the second year in a row. Amina and Kemper were fearless slashers with the ability to score in traffic, and Godinez was a reliable and capable ball-handler for the past two seasons. Freeman and Rivera, meanwhile, provided an energetic spark off the bench.
None of the six will be easy to replace in 2007-08, but Waiwaiole knows he doesn't have a choice.
'I can't say enough about these seniors and what they've meant to the program,' he said. 'They'll be awfully hard to replace.'