At the start of the 2001-02 basketball season, first-year head coach Tracy Norton was hoping seven would be her lucky number.
If her team was to compete with state-ranked opponents like Central Catholic, and league powers like Gresham and Barlow, she would need all seven of her seniors to stand up to the challenge.
Spearheaded by sharpshooter Lindsay Benjamin and post prowlers Meghan Merz, Mickie Halliday and Lesley Betts, HRV took on every opponent with equal vigor.
Junior starters Becki Flory and Becca Meierbachtol added a quickness and athleticism to the lineup that ensured no team would get past them without a fight.
Despite starting the year 1-7, the Eagles were never in awe of their competition — especially on the road. In their first meeting with No. 2 state-ranked Central Catholic on Jan. 4, the Eagles took the Rams down the final tick before eventually bowing out in overtime.
Then, against an underrated Barlow squad on Jan. 11, the Eagles came back from an enormous second-half deficit to take the Bruins down to the wire. They even put the screws to league No. 3 Gresham on Jan. 18 — a game the Eagles led after three quarters, but couldn’t put away.
“The close games against Gresham and Central Catholic were the highlight for me,” said Benjamin, who led the Eagles in scoring for the second consecutive season with 13.6 points per game.
“It seemed like, win or lose, we all stuck together. No matter the outcome, it was always fun.”
But while the Eagles were able to sneak up on the league’s title contenders, they struggled against less-talented teams from Sandy, Centennial and Parkrose, which kept them from catching Reynolds for the fourth and final playoff berth.
It didn’t help that HRV lost both season meetings to the defensive-minded Raiders, who came into HRV on Dec. 7 and stole a win while the Eagles’ only pure ballhandler, Meierbachtol, recovered from a knee sprain.
The injury also didn’t help the girls as they tried to break the early-season seven-game slide. However, once Meierbachtol returned to the lineup Dec. 14, the team took on a new identity. The faster-paced Eagles started breaking through presses and whipping the ball around the perimeter on their way to four wins in seven conference games.
Benjamin rediscovered her stroke and started drilling threes like a Stanley on her way to becoming the MHC’s fourth leading scorer and earning all-conference first team honors.
Merz and Halliday seized control of the paint, while Flory matured into a relentless defender and complimentary scorer. Betts also came on late in the season and established her presence in the post.
Seniors Lindsey Sanguras, Meghan Stintzi and Susie Benton also played integral roles during the midseason resurgence, but something went awry following the Eagles’ payback win over Centennial on Jan. 15.
Just when it appeared that HRV may make a run at the final playoff spot, it stumbled the next four games and ended up losing six of its final seven to finish 5-11.
“One of the things lacking this year was court experience,” Benjamin said. “But I think if the younger girls start playing year-round, they’ll do fine.”
One of the future leaders for the team, as it moves into the Intermountain Conference, will be junior Brittany Reed, who solidified her position as the primary post presence for the Eagles next season.
“Although we’re losing seven seniors, I’m confident that our group coming up will step up and take on bigger roles,” Norton said. “There will be more pressure on Becca and Becki for leadership and offense, but I’m confident they’re up to the challenge.”
Also stepping into the mix next year will be JV stars Alyssa Ortega, Anna Hidle, Suni Davis, Kathryn Guisto and Ashley Botts.