Banks girls are coming off a third-place finish at last year's Class 4A state basketball tournament

There’s a lot to like about this year’s Banks girls basketball team, and it starts with a seven-player senior class that has extensive postseason experience, ranging from last season’s third-place finish at the state basketball tournament, to three straight Top 3 finishes in volleyball, to a state softball championship in the spring.

After losing four decorated seniors to graduation, this year’s group is looking to leave its own legacy of success.

“I’m really excited for this group of seniors,” Banks head coach Nick Rizzo said. “They’ve kind of lived in the shadow of last year’s senior class for most of their lives. Everyone still talks about that group and everything they accomplished, but these girls were a part of that too, and I think they want to make their own mark.”

The Lady Braves have a slew of returning contributors from last year’s team, including senior wings Riley Gerlinger and Kaylin Vandomelen, senior shooting guard Kayla Hardie, and senior post

Samantha ZACK PALMER - Riley Gerlinger celebrates with her Banks teammates during last year's Class 4A state basketball tournament at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.

“We’ve got seven seniors, all of which were a part of last year’s third-place team, and we’ve got a couple juniors, one that played quality minutes last year,” Rizzo said. “I think Riley is ready for a breakout season. Kayla is an unbelievable shooter, and she’s put in a ton of time in the offseason. Samantha is back at (center) and Kaylin is a great athlete on the wing. We should be very deep.”

Two seniors who will see increased playing time this year are guards Lexi Chung and Aubrey Rue, as well as junior point guard Lauren Birr.

Senior Chelsea Dunthorn, junior Amy Hilger, sophomore Madison Soper and freshman Megan Bunn will round out the Lady Braves’ roster.

As usual, depth will be the strength of this year’s Banks team, with a focus on tenacious full-court defense and extensive substitutions.

“Quite frankly, it’s hard to single out any certain kid,” Rizzo said. “It’s a lot like last year’s team in that respect — we’re super deep. I feel very comfortable with every single kid that’s sitting on the bench right now.

“This is a talented group. I’d be willing to pick this group against anyone in the state at this level.”

The Lady Braves worked hard in the offseason, tuning up their skills with an exhaustive and ambitious summer schedule that featured 25 games against either Class 5A or 6A opponents.

“We’ve been playing up and up and up, trying to push these kids,” Rizzo said.

The challenge of playing against tougher opponents, combined with the state playoff experience gained over the last few years, has Rizzo extremely excited about this team’s capabilities.

“These kids have been to Gill (Coliseum) a couple years in a row,” he said. “The big lights don’t really seem to faze them anymore. This should be an exciting season.”

Rizzo isn’t one to make predictions, but he hopes this season has an arc similar to last year, when the Lady Braves got hotter as the season went on.

“Our goal is just to get a little better every time we play,” he said. “You want to be peaking at the end of the season, and that’s what we did last year.”

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