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Basketball teams runs highlight an exciting 2012

2012 saw plenty of terrific moments in the world of athletics at West Linn High School. At the end of the year, when there is a brief lull in the action, it's always fun to look back at the previous 12 months to remember some of my favorite memories.

I have routinely rolled out Best Of lists at this time of year or ranked the year's top five of 10 moments. This year, one particular event stands out more than the others and, at least for me, was the unequivocal highlight of the year.

First, I'll dole out a few honorable mentions. The 2012 girls lacrosse team rattled off one of its most impressive seasons in school history. Although the Lions have won a state title, the 2012 season may have been the program's best.

West Linn entered the year as a legitimate power in the state, having advanced to the semifinals the previous season. However, the Lions also knew that Lake Oswego was the prohibitive favorite to repeat as state champions.

The Lakers lived up to the hype, storming through the regular season with one of the best teams in their impressive history as well.

But, for yet another season, West Linn exceeded expectations. The Lions were virtually the only team in the state that could even give Lake Oswego a game.

West Linn took the Lakers to overtime in the teams' second meeting in what was one of the best games in the state last year and also notched a pair of impressive wins over Oregon City in the regular season.

The Lakers and Lions seemed destined to square off in the finals and neither team disappointed. The championship game was tremendous with the favored Lakers never able to completely shake the Lions. Ultimately Lake Oswego held on for a dramatic 15-13 win but the game set the stage for what should be a tremendous rivalry in the coming years.

Track and soccer standout Madison Leek also deserves an honorable mention for putting together one of the most incredible soccer seasons in school history.

This fall, Leek racked up an unfathomable 50 goals despite teams keying on her from the beginning of the season. There was virtually no defensive game plan that could account for her speed or finishing ability and the efficiency in which she found the back of the net this year was unrivaled to anything I have seen in nearly a decade on this job.

But my fondest memory of the past year was watching both West Linn basketball teams reach the Rose Garden, with each squad peaking at the perfect time, advancing to the state semifinals.

For the boys, the season began with high expectations, albeit a young core. The Lions proved early on that they possessed some of the top talent in the state and the group came together quickly.

West Linn split the Three Rivers League title with Lake Oswego and cruised into the quarterfinals with an impressive pair of playoff victories.

The Lions opened up the state tournament against Central Catholic and rose to the occasion, playing one of their best games of the season. West Linn thoroughly outplayed the Rams to move into the semifinals before running into an incredible shooting display by Lake Oswego.

However, even in defeat, the Lions proved they belonged on the biggest stage and the team's talented younger players gained valuable experience for what they hope will be an extended run of success.

Meanwhile, the West Linn girls didn't open the season looking like a state powerhouse. The Lions opened 1-4 and had a few lopsided defeats in the preseason.

But things steadily turned around for West Linn and the team started to find its stride as league play opened.

As has been the case for the last handful of seasons, the Lions were very successful in the TRL, tying for second place with Clackamas.

West Linn received a favorable draw in the postseason and ground out tough wins over Centennial and Crater to finally reach the state quarterfinals, a goal that had eluded talented Lions teams in the past.

In the first round of the tournament, West Linn drew rival Oregon City, a team that has owned the Lions for more than two decades and one that had already rolled up 32 and 22-point victories in league play.

However, West Linn showed that it was more than just happy to be making an appearance at the Rose Garden. The Lions played without fear and it seemed to catch the Pioneers off guard.

Oregon City still seemed to be in control of the game although the Pioneers struggled to put West Linn away. The Lions have had stretches of strong play against Oregon City over the years but a brief letdown routinely allowed the Pioneers to pull away.

That letdown never occurred in this game. West Linn trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter but suddenly picked up its intensity, particularly on defense.

With the Lions making a late run, Oregon City wilted, calling off its trademark full-court press and committing crucial turnovers down the stretch.

West Linn outscored the Pioneers 25-10 in the fourth quarter and snapped a 57-game losing streak to Oregon City in arguably the biggest meeting between the two programs to advance to the semifinals.

It was a stunning result to witness from the sideline and one that almost didn't seem real as it was happening. The only game I could compare it to was West Linn boys basketball team's dramatic state championship game over Sheldon in 1997.

I was at that game as well as a high schooler and, like the West Linn girls, the Lions trailed by double-digits late until point guard Kyle Valentine caught fire in the final quarter to bring the Lions all the way back for their first basketball championship.

West Linn's comeback was a complete team effort, Izzy Romero, Karly LeVeque and Brittany Smith all had key baskets and the Lions played tremendous defense all over the court to take down the No. 1 seed.

And it was one of the most shocking and electrifying results I've witnessed.



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