Grizzlies brace for rematch with defending state champs

It's been more than two months since Ashland stumbled and bumbled its way through a double-digit loss to Willamette, but Grizzlies head coach Tom McCracken, who's pretty good with numbers, still has one from that night on his mind:

Three — the number of AHS players now in the Grizzlies' starting lineup who played limited minutes or were out of practice: Ila Sturges, recovering from an infection, played "a couple minutes;" Drew Van Vleck was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter; and Callie McCoy, who joined the team late, had just three practices under her belt after joining the team late.

"We're not the same team that played (Willamette) before," McCracken said, "and that's all there is to it."

The Grizzlies will find out how much better off they really are Wednesday, when the two teams meet again in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A girls basketball tournament. The double-elimination, eight-team tourney will be played Wednesday through Saturday at McArthur Court in Eugene. Third-ranked Ashland (22-5) and fourth-ranked Willamette (20-4) face off at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner scheduled to play either second-ranked Wilsonville (21-4) or 13th-ranked Hermiston (17-5) in Friday night's semifinals.

In other quarterfinal action, top-ranked Jefferson (16-2) will face fifth-ranked West Albany (16-8), and 10th-ranked Crater (19-6) will take on 11th-ranked Bend (17-9).

Willamette mostly had its way with Ashland when the two 5A powers squared off in the championship game of the South Coast Les Schwab Tournament back on Dec. 30. Ashland star point guard Allison Gida picked up three quick fouls and watched from the bench as the defending state champions outscored the Grizzlies 21-5 in the second quarter to take a 31-14 halftime lead. Ashland stormed back in the second half to cut the lead to four, but Gida fouled out and that was that.

Ashland has not lost since, a run of 15 straight wins that has the Grizzlies feeling confident heading into the rematch.

"They know (the Wolverines) were the last team to beat us, so you've got to show them respect, but I think they like the matchup," McCracken said of the Grizzlies, who will be making their third straight quarterfinal appearance.

Considering its recent history, Willamette's third-place finish in the Midwestern League — the Wolverines wound up taking the league's top seed by winning the conference tournament — could almost be considered a disappointment. The Wolverines have emerged as the state's top 5A girls basketball program since the reclassification took affect in 2006-07, capturing state titles in '07 and '09 and placing fifth in '08.

Ashland's been solid, if not spectacular, over the same span, claiming three top-six trophies, including a fifth-place finish last year.

The Wolverines are currently enjoying the fruits of a youth movement that could yield big dividends down the road. Freshmen Alyssa Worthen and Brittany Glassow and sophomore Tori Mahaffie are already playing crucial roles on the team, and combined to score 29 points against Ashland on Dec. 30 (Worthen was Willamette's leading scorer against Ashland, scoring 12 points on four 3-pointers).

"I'd much rather play them Wednesday than in two years from now," McCracken said.

Share This Story