Braves girls finish a program-best second after tough finals loss at state basketball tourney

NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Banks' Aspen Slifka throws a pass after recovering a loose ball during the Braves' state final game versus Sutherlin last winter.The Banks girls basketball team had a year to remember.

Despite the lack of a storybook ending, the Braves reached an ultimately satisfying end by way of varying means, which spoke volumes about their coach, their work ethic, and ultimately the girls responsible for persevering during and after an emotionally trying season.

After losing a heartbreaking state final game to three-time defending champion Sutherlin, in a game in which Banks surrendered an 18-point lead over the final 10 minutes, the Braves settled for a second-place trophy to go with a Cowapa League championship, a bevy of individual accolades and, in the end, the most decorated Banks girls basketball season in the school's history.

The Braves started the season 13-1 before losing two key contributors due to disciplinary action. Afterwards, many — including this reporter — wrote the team off in regards to a deep postseason run, considering the loss of significant personnel to be too big a blow to overcome in the midst of the season.

But head coach Brandon Begley saw things differently, and after an initial loss to Seaside, the reinvented version of the Braves won five regular-season and four postseason games before the disappointing loss to Sutherlin.

"We definitely had to move some pieces around to make things work," said Begley after their first win with his new lineup. "We haven't had an opportunity to practice in our new roles, and we're going to have to talk a little more on defense, call out help, call out screens, et cetera. But that will come, and I think we'll get it together."

He was right.

Senior Anna Klein, junior Sydney Gregg, and sophomore point guard Aspen Slifka spearheaded the new approach, and with help from a variety of people around them like seniors Karlie Gerlinger and Katie Ragsdale, Begley's "new" Braves thrived in the midst of the perceived turmoil, right up to the point in which they didn't. For 10 minutes.

"As the lead got smaller and smaller, we just tightened up," the dejected coach said. "We talked about everything we've been through this year and how by coming together we can get past this. We just have to believe. But unlike the rest of the year, we weren't able to overcome it."

Begley was honored as the Cowapa League Coach of the Year; Klein, Gerlinger, Gregg, and Slifka were selected to the all-league team, while Ragsdale was honorable mention. In addition, Klein was voted to the all-state second team, while Slifka was all-state honorable mention.

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