It was short-lived, but it was a winning streak.
Two in a row.
The Heritage girls basketball team.
“I didn’t know whether to cry or feel excited or happy,” Mesha Branch said.
“Long overdue,” Ashley Edwards added.
“Tears of joy,” Madison Bare said, adding there was a lot of love that day of the team’s first win. A lot of hugs. Some relief, too.
A sports season is for all athletes who play the sport. It is not just for the district champions or those who make the postseason. For every first-place team, there is a last-place team.
And yet, every year, athletes return, even after a difficult campaign.
Heritage was the only Class 4A or 3A Greater St. Helens League girls basketball team to go winless last season. This season, the Timberwolves had a winning record at one point, at 2-1. It is unlikely that the Timberwolves, who are 2-5 now, will be battling for a league championship in January. But having already tasted victory two times makes this season is special.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Shanelle Thomas said. “In the beginning, people were asking, ‘Are you going to go 0-20 again?'”
That might have been a tough question for some to handle. The Timberwolves knew they were improving, though. They also knew something very few outside of the program knew. These players, the coaches, enjoy each other so much that it made it easier to endure the defeats.
“Even though we lost every single game, it was one of the most fun seasons because of this group of girls,” Bare said.
There have been sleepovers at the school gym, and dance-offs after practice.
“Cherish the good moments. You can’t focus on the losing,” Bare said. “No one else understands it, being in the gym every day like we do. It’s not easy.”
Heritage coach Karrin Wilson said this is one of the most motivated groups she has been associated with in basketball.
“I’ve had winning teams when it was hard to come to practice every day,” Wilson said. “Last year it was easy to come to practice. They wanted to work hard and make it better. They stayed positive. If you’d come to our practices last year, you wouldn’t know they were 0-20.”
As soon as that season ended, the Timberwolves were looking forward to this season.
The players took their cues from the coach.
“She’s not giving up on us, so why should we?” Shayla Bell said.
Bare, Bell, Branch, Edwards, and Thomas are senior leaders for the squad. They understand they are still far from going up against Skyview and Union for the top of the 4A GSHL. But they also want to be part of the turnaround, the path to competitiveness.
“We have to make sure we’re leaving the program in a positive way,” Bell said. “We now know what it feels like to win. Last year, we had some close games. We could have, should have. This year, wow. We’re actually a winner.”
As coach, Wilson is in a strange position. She wants to celebrate the wins — a long time coming — but also has to keep reminding her players that they are not done yet.
“It gives you a little bit of confidence and something to fall back on this season,” Wilson said. “But certainly, you can’t be satisfied. You can be happy for the wins, but clearly not satisfied.”
Beyond the win-loss record, the players already are making it a successful season.
“I want to look back and be proud of what we did,” Bare said.
These Heritage Timberwolves did not give up when all was lost last winter.
This season, the Timberwolves have been able to share that winning feeling with one another a couple of times.
It is a feeling they have earned, and it is a feeling they do not take for granted.
GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW CAPSULES
4A Greater St. Helens League
PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Jocelyn Adams, sr., Skvyiew
- Tee Anderson, sr., Union
- Jessica Chatman, sr., Union
- Stephanie McDonagh, sr., Skyview
- Aubrey Ward-El, sr., Skyview
Skyview and Union both appear to be loaded with college-bound athletes. Union has Chatman (BYU), Anderson (Colorado State-Pueblo) and Tessa Vanderpool (Southern Oregon). Skyview has Ward-El (University of San Diego) and Adams (Weber State). The other battle is for the third bi-district playoff berth between Evergreen, Camas and Battle Ground
3A Greater St. Helens League
PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Lindsay Asplund, jr., Prairie
- Paris Collins, sr., Hudson’s Bay
- Bailey Gaspar, sr., Mountain View
- Nicole Goecke, sr., Prairie
Prairie may not be the state power the Falcons once were, but they should more than strong enough to take another 3A GSHL title. After that, it’s a free-for-all for the other berths to the posteason. Kelso and Mountain View took the spots last year, but have many holes to fill. Columbia River, Hudson’s Bay and Fort Vancouver look to improve.
2A Greater St. Helens League
PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Shannon Boyle, sr., Ridgefield
- Karley Eaton, jr., Mark Morris
- Kourtney Eaton, jr., Mark Morris
- Katelyn McGuire, sr., Hockinson
- Megan Sharp, sr., Washougal
The return of Class 2A state player of the year Kourtney Eaton and the co-2A GSHL player of the year Karley Eaton, not to mention first-team all-leaguer Breanna Dubois, make Mark Morris the prohibitive favorite in the league. The other four teams in the league bring back all-league performers mixed with newcomers and figure to battle it out for the other playoff spots.
1A Trico League
PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Jasmine Coffin, jr., Ilwaco
- Jessica Flanagan, so., Woodland
- Sidra Malik, jr., Woodland
- Jewell McKee, sr., Stevenson
- Katie Whitten, jr., La Center
The loss of Sam Wise to a season-ending knee injury in the offseason really dealt a blow to La Center, so the Wildcats will rely more on Whitten. Woodland returns five all-league performers to lead a pack of title contenders that includes Kalama. Castle Rock lost several key performers from last year’s league title team. King’s Way Christian gets Harper Christian back from a knee injury that wiped out her sophomore season.