Wednesday, May 11, 2011/lk
Sometimes you have to build a foundation. Four years ago that was the situation the current seniors on the HRV girls lacrosse team faced. The Eagles were preparing to become a varsity program. Many of the then-seniors had little experience.
The younger players had played youth lacrosse but were still extremely raw when compared to the likes of Oregon Episcopal, St. Mary's, Lincoln and Wilson; all of which were state powers and all of which were in Hood River's league.
The young players kept at it. They beat Grant. They closed the margin of defeat to the powerhouses by a couple goals. Two years ago current coach Peter Nance put in an offense similar to what HRV's successful boys team executes.
Last season was rough at times for HRV as the team adapted to the new style. They spent much of preseason practice simply learning the system. This year expectations were raised, and justifiably so.
The Eagles' core group had played together for six or seven years, upperclassman had taken the league in offseason practices and winter leagues, preseason practice was spent on refining technique instead of lacrosse 101.
"This group of seniors did a great job in bringing up the young girls and having a great work ethic," HRV coach Peter Nance said. "They worked to get in the gym for winter practices."
The Eagles still had a tough road to the state playoffs, needing to get by Lincoln, Wilson or OES to get to state. In the end they fell just short, closing the season with back-to-back losses to Wilson. However, consider that last year the Trojans did not even need their varsity team to beat HRV.
Losses to lesser teams like a down St. Mary's group and Cleveland stung because they were expecting to win. In previous years there were no lesser teams; no expected win.
It was the Eagles who got to celebrate the upsets and were not in a position to be upset themselves.
That in and of itself speaks volumes to how far the team has come in just a few years.
"I can't wait to come back and see the tryouts when they are competitive and have cuts," senior Margaret Gleasman said.
Just a few hundred yards from where the Eagles girls lacrosse team practices the HRV softball team faced similar situation this year to the one the lacrosse team was in four years ago.
The team had one senior and a lineup full of freshmen and sophomores. In a league with three preseason top 10 teams, the "baby birds" - as they are called by broadcaster Mark Bailey - were expected to be easy prey. Someone forgot to deliver the memo. At the start of their league schedule the Eagles figured it out in their first two league series, taking two from Pendleton and three of four from Hermiston.
The Eagles got the last one against the Bulldogs in a way young teams are not supposed to win: a grind-it-out 1-0 victory with one clutch hit, and solid defense.
With each win the Eagles have steadily climbed the rankings, reaching No. 9 with their latest victory of Hermiston, meaning that four of the current top-10 5A teams in the state are in the Columbia River Conference.
Through each win, the team gained more confidence. While opposing teams waited for them to collapse, the Eagles didn't.
Coach Eric Keller continued to preach discipline and patience and telling them that even though they were young, to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Eagles have jumped a few steps in the development process thanks to maturity beyond their years, some hard work and fundamental execution.
"We're young," shortstop Hallie Curtis said. "But that doesn't mean we can't be perfect."
Both these girls teams have been striving for respect, from opponents, fans and even themselves.
We haven't reached the end of the story with either team yet, but it can't be safely said now that the ladies have earned it.