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Braves double down with two titles

Banks volleyball and softball share our Team of the Year award after each winning a Class 4A state championship

As if we could really pick between these two.

For a school to win one state championship during a school year is incredibly special, so Banks was doubly blessed in 2015-16.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES
 - Banks volleyball players celebrate after beating Sisters in straight sets to win the Class 4A state championship last Nov. 7 at Forest Grove High School. It was the first volleyball state title in program history for the Braves.

That’s because the Braves added two new big blue trophies to their coffers, courtesy of the volleyball and softball teams.

Each squad was special in its own right.

In volleyball, the Braves went where no Banks team had ever been before, as the best the program had done prior to last fall was second place (2010, 2014). The softball team had been there before — as recently as 2013 — but this particular squad entered this spring with so many question marks and turned them into exclamation points.

On the hardcourt, Banks was once again superlative. Led by eventual Class 4A state player of the year Megan Bunn, the Braves rolled through a near-perfect regular season, including a 10-0 record in the Cowapa League. In fact, the team was so dominant in conference play that it dropped just a single set, and that at the hands of Valley Catholic, which eventually finished fourth at state.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: ZACK PALMER
 - The Banks softball team poses with its state championship trophy after beating McLoughlin, 5-2, on June 4 at the OSU Softball Complex in Corvallis to win the program's third Class 4A title in the last five seasons.

The Braves timed their peak perfectly during the postseason, when they turned the tables on the only two 4A teams who had bested them earlier in the season. Banks opened the state tournament last November with an easy sweep of Hidden Valley. In the semifinals, it flipped the score on a Crook County side that had taken a 3-1 decision early in the season.

And playing in front of a large and loud cheering contingent at nearby Forest Grove High School, Banks finally got the sweetest kind of revenge against longtime nemesis Sisters in the state final. The Outlaws had won a nonleague matchup in September 2-0, but the rematch — which was also a rematch of the 2014 state final — belonged to Banks. The sets were close, but the Braves pulled out a straight-sets thriller to capture their first-ever volleyball state title.

“It was just awesome,” senior middle blocker Nikayla Doane said. “Probably, this will be something that I remember for the rest of my life.”

In all, the team posted a 27-3 record. In addition to her state player of the year award, Bunn was named first team all-state for a third consecutive time and was a unanimous first team all-tournament pick. Mary Schorn and Doane were named to the all-state and all-tourney second teams, and Kiana Yokoi joined them on the all-tourney second team. Co-coaches Suzanne Alley and Diana Herb shared the league and state coach of the year award.

In Schorn and MaKenna Partain, two players from that volleyball outfit also starred on the softball diamond in the spring. As one of just two seniors on the team, Partain embraced a leadership role, and Schorn was dynamite at the plate all season long.

While Banks’ state titles in 2012 and 2013 were not necessarily surprises, in some ways, this year’s was. For one, the team returned only a few players with considerable varsity experience. Second, the Braves entered the season with a lot of unknowns in the pitching department. Third, the program was adjusting to a new coaching staff, as James Wise took over for former head coach Jenny Compton not all that long before the season began.

“What I take pride in is that I was able to get young girls in and quickly integrate them in with our older juniors, seniors that were on here and have it all mesh,” Wise said after the state final. “I kind of got irritated at the beginning of the season when we lost against Gladstone, and they said, ‘... this is going to be Banks’ rebuilding year.’

“And I was like, you don’t understand what we’re trying to do right now. We’re just trying to find an identity. And we did that second game in, and it’s carried us through until now.”

Even early on, Banks started showing glimpses of its potential, and it really put the state on notice that it would contend with a sweep of Scappoose at home on April 22. Those wins put the Braves in the driver’s seat for the Cowapa League title, and they never relinquished that spot, finishing the conference slate at 14-1.

As the season went along, the team also sorted out its pitching staff, getting contributions from four different pitchers along the way. One of them, Michaela Shaw, matured considerably and played a pivotal role in the team’s playoff run. Her style of pitching to contact and trusting the stellar defense behind her to make plays worked beautifully for this group, which evolved into a very cohesive unit.

In all, Banks won 21 of its final 22 games and posted a 23-3 overall record. The Braves prevailed in all of their playoff games by at least three runs each, and like their volleyball counterparts, they turned the tables on a rival to win state.

Showing great poise on June 4 in Corvallis, Banks jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two and a half innings and then relied on its defense to knock off McLoughlin, 5-2, for its third state championship in five seasons. The Pioneers had won the past two state titles, beating the Braves in last year’s final to do it.

So, as in volleyball, Banks won its championship by beating the team it had lost to in the state final the previous year.

Talk about going full circle.