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Smiling her way to glory

McKenzie Griffin shined bright as a senior for the Sherwood basketball, volleyball and track teams
by: DAN BROOD STATE STAR — McKenzie Griffin competed at the Class 5A state volleyball tourney, state basketball tourney and state track championships as a Sherwood senior.

SHERWOOD - The smile.

The bright, friendly smile.

It's always there.

On the volleyball court. On the basketball court. By the track.

There it is - shining bright.

McKenzie Griffin always seems to be smiling.

But, don't be fooled.

Behind that winning smile there beats the heart of a champion.

A champion, that is, who had an amazing senior year at Sherwood High School.

'It was more than I expected,' Griffin said with a smile as she looked back on her senior year. 'I had high expectations, and the coaches did, too. I didn't want to let people down. But I was still surprised, but it was a pleasant surprise.'

Griffin, who graduated from Sherwood in June, had plenty of reasons to smile when she thinks of her senior year.

In the fall, she helped the Lady Bowmen win the Class 5A state volleyball title. In the winter season, Griffin helped the Sherwood girls basketball team reach the Class 5A state tournament.

And, in the spring, Griffin soared to second place in the triple jump event at the Class 5A state track and field championships.

'Most people can't they went to state in three sports,' Griffin said. 'Going in volleyball and basketball really pushed me for track. I had that feeling before and I wanted to get it again. It was a real special year.'

Now, Griffin has another reason to smile as she's been named The Times' Athlete of the Year for Sherwood High School. The honor goes to the top senior-class athlete, as seen by The Times, at Sherwood High School for the 2010-2011 school year.

Griffin is sharing the Sherwood Athlete of the Year honor with fellow Lady Bowmen three-sport star Megan Shields (see related story).

'McKenzie has the most contagious smile,' Sherwood girls basketball coach Liz Barrett said. 'Her coachability is unsurpassed.'

'McKenzie is an incredibly-gifted athlete, but, more importantly, she is a great role model and woman of integrity,' Sherwood volleyball coach Emily Gustafson said. 'She has been an invaluable part of Sherwood High School her last four years and we will miss her positive presence on the court as well as in the hallways.'

'There were times when I got annoyed, but I'd look at McKenzie and she would make me happy,' Shields said of her Lady Bowmen teammate. 'She brought so much energy to the volleyball court. Her energy gave me energy. She has that loud voice you can always hear, and she's always encouraging.'

Taking the title

Griffin finished her senior volleyball season with a smile - a championship smile, to be exact - as she helped the Lady Bowmen claim their first state crown.

But it wasn't just smiles that went into that championship season.

'I don't think people know how much time and effort went into it,' she said. 'We put in a lot of hard work and had some early-morning practices - and our team isn't a morning team.'

But the Lady Bowmen were a winning team. And Griffin, a 6-foot tall outside hitter, certainly seemed to play a part in that success. And there was more to it than just her sky-high jumping ability and the way she smacked the ball hard off the court.

'She is the hardest worker on the floor as well as in the classroom,' Gustafson said of Griffin. 'Her ability to make you feel at ease when you first meet her is one of her most attractive qualities.'

'We were a really close team,' Griffin said. 'I love volleyball and our team was so awesome.'

Awesome - probably a good way to describe Griffin's volleyball season.

She was a first-team All-Northwest Oregon Conference selection and a second-team Class 5A All-State pick.

But, probably most important to her, was the championship that Sherwood won with a 24-26, 26-24, 25-23, 18-25, 15-11 win over NWOC foe Liberty in the Class 5A state championship match played last November at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

'That still gives me the chills,' Griffin said of the title-match victory. 'And I'd have to say we were probably the weirdest team to win state. It's weird looking back, knowing how strange we were and that we were the best team in the state. I think our team chemistry was the best. I'm always going to remember it.'

The volleyball state championship was the first of three state team titles - along with football and baseball - that Sherwood would win in the 2010-2011 school year.

'We started it all,' Griffin said with a smile. 'For our school to win three state championships and be part of it is unforgettable. That's special.'

The volleyball season was so special, in fact, that Griffin couldn't wait to carry that feeling into her senior basketball season.

Aiming at the tourney

'I worked on basketball more this year,' Griffin said. 'I was in better shape and I worked hard on certain skills. We also had a great group of coaches who brought so many different views and opinions on what we could improve on. Basketball was really fun.'

Not only was it fun, but Griffin, and her teammates made it a goal to get to the Class 5A state tournament, which was to be held in the newly opened Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.

But, in the Class 5A state playoffs, Sherwood had to get past a strong North Eugene squad to reach its state tournament goal.

The Lady Bowmen ended up getting a 55-50 win in overtime in that contest, played at Sherwood High School.

'That was so intense,' said Griffin, who played at a post position for the Lady Bowmen. 'I think it was the most intense game we've every had.'

Griffin had 12 points and six rebounds in the victory, which sent Sherwood to the state tournament at the Matthew Knight Arena.

'It was like a historic moment,' Griffin said. 'We went early and took a bunch of time and looked around.'

The games at the state tournament didn't go the way Sherwood had hoped. The Lady Bowmen fell 52-37 to eventual champion Springfield to start the tournament. The Lady Bowmen had to play almost that entire game without Shields, who was plagued with foul trouble from the start. Griffin, trying to pick up the slack, had 10 points and four rebounds in that contest.

Sherwood then lost 54-43 to Wilsonville in the consolation semifinals. Griffin had eight points, eight rebounds and four assists in that contest.

Still, despite the losses, playing in the state tournament was special for Sherwood's three seniors - Griffin, Shields and Bridgette Francis.

'All of us are going to (the University of) Oregon,' Griffin said. 'We're all excited to be going there, so to play there this year was really special.'

It was so special, in fact, that Griffin wanted to make a return trip to the Eugene campus during her track and field season.

Jumping to glory

Believe it or not, Griffin's smile wasn't nearly as present during her senior track and field season.

'The coaches told me to be aggressive,' she said. 'I had to focus more. It was a different mindset.'

But, while the smile may not have been there so much, the success was.

Maybe the reason for that is the fact that Griffin, who only was in her second year of high school track, concentrated solely on the long jump and triple jump as a senior.

'I focused on the jumps this year,' she said. 'All I did was jump training. Last year, jumping was more in the background.'

And, what a difference a year makes.

Griffin had some big success at the Northwest Oregon Conference district meet, where she triumphed in the long jump with a mark of 16 feet, 11½ inches. She also won a district crown in the triple jump, where she had a mark of 36-3½.

With those district titles, Griffin earned a trip to the Class 5A state track meet, held at Hayward Field in Eugene.

'I love Eugene,' Griffin said with a smile. 'I'm into the history of the University of Oregon, and I like being able to compete at a place like Hayward Field.'

On the first day of the state meet, Griffin placed eighth in the long jump with a mark of 16-8½. While that was fine, she did better the next day - way better.

The next day, in her first attempt of the triple jump, Griffin set a new personal best, and bested her own school record, with a leap of 37-0¼.

'I wasn't expecting to P.R.,' she said. 'And, from the look on my dad's face and T's (Sherwood track coach Terrel Smith) face, I don't think they expected it either.'

The mark of 37-0¼ ended up giving Griffin second place in the event.

'I wasn't expecting it at all,' she said. 'It was special. Oh my gosh - even though it ended really well, I already miss it.'

Keeping a balance

At her volleyball, basketball and track events, McKenzie Griffin had her own loud, one-man cheering section in her dad, Joel Griffin.

'I'm a daddy's girl,' McKenzie Griffin said with a smile. 'And it's important to me to have his support. He's really outspoken, and his voice is very unique.'

It's the family support of her dad, and her mother, Nancy Griffin, that helped carry McKenzie Griffin to her special senior year.

'My parents gave me a good balance of academics and sports,' she said. 'They're both important to our family. They both combined to help me maintain a balance.'

McKenzie Griffin doesn't plan on participating in any varsity sports at the University of Oregon. But don't be surprised if Eugene doesn't look a bit brighter thanks to a certain Sherwood grad's smile.