Superlatives abound when describing how talented this years team was

In his postgame interview after guiding his team to its second straight state championship, coach Eric Viuhkola stated definitively that this group of graduating seniors was the best basketball class to ever go through West Linn High School.

It's a difficult claim to dispute given its accomplishments. Four appearances in the state tournament at the Moda Center in the past four years, three straight trips to the semifinals and back-to-back state championships, a feat that only three other schools have accomplished since 1942.

West Linn had three seniors in its starting lineup and four others who likely could have started and been very productive on a good percentage of other teams in the state.

And yet, the Lions' top two scorers and unanimous first-team all-tournament selections are both returning next season. Viuhkola also referred to that tandem as “the best backcourt in the state.” And, again, he's probably not wrong.

What it all adds up to is that West Linn just reeled off its most impressive season in school history and did it with what was, unequivocally, its most talented team ever.

West Linn's 1997 state championship team was fueled by chemistry. A group of four seniors who had played together since elementary school, teamed with a talented sophomore transfer and needed a brilliant and mesmerizing second-half comeback to top Sheldon for the school's first crown in the sport.

Last year's Lions team peaked at the right time, relishing its role as the plucky underdog. Without the burden of expectations, West Linn rattled off three straight wins in the tournament by a total of six points, getting some stellar performances and, frankly, a bit of luck to pick up three, nail-biting and memorable victories.

This year? The Lions were nothing short of dominant. West Linn lost just one game to an Oregon opponent all season, to 5A champion Jefferson and won every other game against Oregon competition by at least nine points.

West Linn was an overwhelming favorite to repeat as state champions this year and those expectations proved to be anything but a burden. Instead, they seemed to fuel the No. 1 team in the state and the Lions were able to draw from that well of confidence during the few times this season where they were actually tested. It's what truly great teams do best.

After running the table in the Three Rivers League, West Linn buried its first two playoff opponents, letting both Century and Grant hang around for a half before outscoring them by a combined 91-46 in the second halves.

And, after making it to the Moda Center, the Lions played like it was their home away from home. The difficulty of making the adjustment to the Moda Center can't be overstated. After months of games in cozy, high school gyms with games held at the same times on the same nights of the week, suddenly the three most important contests of the years take place on consecutive days, with games at sporadic times and the Moda Center court itself is considerably larger, with multiple 3-point lines drawn on the floor and, instead of a blank wall behind the basket, instead there are hundreds of screaming fans.

For first-timers in the facility, it can be daunting.

“Our experience here really helps. You take a look at what happened to Clackamas, the No. 2 team in the state this year. That happened to us my freshman year. We hadn't played here before and we lost to a team we shouldn't have,” Ryan Shearmire said.

This season, West Linn thrived in the setting. The Lions were blisteringly hot at times and, when the shots weren't falling, they didn't panic. West Linn also didn't get bogged down into a slower style of play which can often happen on the big stage and, more often than not, it was the Lions who dictated the tempo and style of the game.

While last year's run was defined by storybook moments and thrilling finishes, this year's was memorable for the level of precision that West Linn exercised in its dismantling of three strong opponents.

The difference in the approach between last spring and this year was evident in warm-ups. Whereas jokes and smiles abounded last season, this year it was all business, which translated to its performance during the game.

The Lions played like they simply had a job to do and they did it with extreme efficiency. “Confident yet humble” has been a mantra for West Linn this season, passed down by Viuhkola.

At the beginning of the year, the coach refused to use the terms “back-to-back” or “repeat champions” when talking about the team.

He knew every team is a completely different entity and that maintaining focus from game to game would be of the utmost importance.

His tactics worked as the Lions rarely wavered this season. After the team cut down the nets for the second straight season, Viuhkola grinned before heading into the locker room to celebrate with his team.

“You can use whatever term you want now,” he said.

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