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Hillsboro News-Times

FROM THE SIDELINES: Good things come to those who...believe

By Wade Evanson,

2023-03-14

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Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

Words made famous by Jim Valvano as part of his iconic 1993 ESPYs speech, and words to live by when up against a seemingly insurmountable foe.

As we transition from indoor sports like basketball, wrestling and swimming, and into spring and summer delights the likes of baseball, softball, and track and field, I find myself reflecting on what was over the past three months, and more specifically the past few weeks as local athletes beat the odds en route to individual and team state championships.

Nothing in life is easy, which is why the things that come harder often are the sweetest.

I was reminded of that talking with members of the Tualatin boys basketball team shortly following their upset win over top-ranked West Linn in last Saturday night’s state championship game.

The Timberwolves were defending state champions, but few gave them a shot against a Lions team that had swept through the Les Schwab Invitational, the entirety of their state competition, and had already defeated the Wolves three times this season by an average margin of seven points.

But despite what you, I or the numbers said about their chances with it all on the line, they believed, and they used that belief to slay the proverbial dragon and retain the trophy they first earned nearly a year ago to the day.

The same could be said for the West Linn boys wrestling team who upset the two-time defending champion Newberg Tigers at last month’s state meet.

Or Westview’s Alice Yeuh, who won the girls 200-yard freestyle at last month’s state championships, defeating the favorite, Jesuit’s Sydney Wilson, despite having lost twice to her at districts a week earlier.

And of course, Banks’ girls basketball team, who to nearly everyone’s surprise defeated Corbett in the 3A girls state basketball title game, overcoming a month-long shooting slump, an inherently impotent offensive attack, and a Corbett team who, for all intents and purposes, felt like a team of destiny.

The Braves were undeterred by their slump, perceived deficiencies or the cosmic forces working against them, and instead, they worked and believed their way to the school’s first-ever girls state basketball championship.

And that one cut me the deepest.

Valvano’s speech came while the veteran 46-year-old head basketball coach was at the tail end of a year-long battle with cancer, which ultimately led to his death just 10 weeks later.

Banks first-year head coach Nick Rizzo stepped away from the same position as coach of the Braves girls four years ago to tend to his ailing wife Staci, who was in her own fight with the same insidious disease. She ultimately succumbed to cancer in 2019 after an admirable 10-year fight against it, but her and the words she spoke to her husband during those trying times had even deeper meaning in the wake of Rizzo’s team’s title.

“When I stepped down … I did it for her, to help her and my young kids out, and it was the right thing to do and I’d do all over again,” Rizzo said during an interview with Fox 12 upon his team’s return from the state tourney. “She said, you need to be coaching high school basketball again, and if that opportunity ever arises take it and roll with it. And here we are, and to do it the first year back … wow. It kind of feels like fate a little bit.”

Fate? Maybe, and I’m here for it if that’s the case, for you don’t have to twist my arm too far to get me behind the “good things happen to good people by unexplainable means” argument.

But if it’s a tangible reason you seek for Rizzo and his team’s success in their ultimate moment, look no further than the process they completed when the clock hit zero in their state final in Coos Bay.

These girls worked.

Their coach worked.

And it’s the work that makes the rest of it all possible.

Listen to Banks’ Alex Saunders in the wake of their state championship win.

“This is so surreal. I can’t even put it into words,” Saunders said. “I’m just so proud of my team, and so proud of how far we’ve come. We worked every single second of this season towards this moment. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to come here with.”

And Rizzo in those same moments? He talked less about himself and his travails, and more about his team and specifically his point guard, Hailey Evans, who’d battled through an elongated shooting slump only to break from it when it mattered most.

“I’m so happy for Hailey,” Banks head coach Nick Rizzo said. “She’s a kid that can be really, really hard on herself and she’s been down, and she’s been frustrated, but we knew what she was capable of and you saw that tonight. She never gave up.”

Neither did Tualatin, West Linn’s wrestlers, Yeuh, Rizzo and of course the entire Banks girls basketball team. They stayed the course, blocked out the noise, and believed in themselves and the preparation that got them where they were.

I’m proud of them all, and my guess is Valvano would be too.

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