COOS BAY — This is a different kind a trip for the Marshfield girls basketball team.
A year after making its first trip to the state tournament in years, the squad is a year older, dominated by juniors, not sophomores. And after coming up short in the third-place game at Forest Grove High School last winter, the Pirates have a different outlook this time.
The Pirates return to the state tournament as the top overall seed with a different mentality; that of business, not pleasure.
Marshfield opens against Valley Catholic at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Pacific University.
“Last year it was the first time and that was a huge accomplishment in itself,” Marshfield junior point guard Tess Garrett said. “This year if you were at the (home) playoff game this year to last year, you can just tell the different reaction as a team. Last year we were way more excited. But this year that’s been the expectation all year. It’s just been what’s expected of us.
“The job’s not done yet.”
It’s been a long job, that’s for sure.
The Pirates packed their nonconference schedule with quality opponents. They played seven of the top 16 teams, three of which advanced to the final eight. They went 6-1 in those games, the one loss coming to No. 2 Hidden Valley, a team they also beat.
Marshfield has played in two three-games-in-three-days tournaments, winning both. They went to Seaside for a rematch of last year's third-place game and beat the Seagulls 63-29.
Oh, and the Pirates played North Medford and kept it close throughout before finally losing by 11 to the fifth-ranked program in Class 6A.
“It’s not gonna be unfamiliar waters in terms of the process,” Marshfield coach Bruce Bryant said. “It comes down to the fact that of those teams, I think five of them were there last year, and three are new, so there’s experience for at least five of ‘em. But the good thing is, Sutherlin’s not gonna win the state title again. So it’s gonna be somebody’s to take home.”
Sutherlin won four straight titles, including a thrilling comeback victory over Banks last winter, but got bounced in the play-in round this year.
With the Bulldogs out, Marshfield has the target of being the top-ranked team. The Pirates’ first-round opponent, No. 9 Valley Catholic, already pulled one upset by winning at Madras’ for the right to play the Pirates at Pacific University on Thursday.
But Garrett said that none of that matters anymore. Whatever benefits come with the top ranking have been received and expended.
“It was nice going into postseason because you get a nice ranking, you get the 16 seed,” she said. “But now rankings don’t matter. Every team that we’re gonna see at the tournament is gonna be good. It doesn’t matter we’ve been ranked No. 1 all year. You want to finish as No. 1.”
“I think they understand the importance of the fact that everybody is really good and you have to have a different kind of a determination when you’re playing all three games,” Bryant said. “Because it matters whether you trophy or you don’t trophy. It all begins with the first game. I like to think that we understand the importance of the first game.”
That doesn’t mean the Pirates are totally free of nerves. Some players have told Bryant they are nervous already, but he reassured them that those nerves only signal that this means something to them, that they care.
“I think that we can already feel the nerves in our practice for the game on Thursday because it’s a big game,” Garrett said.
The Valiants, who are making their first trip to the Class 4A tournament after spending years of relevancy in the Class 3A ranks, will present a defensive challenge the Pirates aren’t unfamiliar with: a transcendent player.
Valley Catholic features a junior-laden roster with a sophomore, two freshman and one senior. But that senior is the center of everything.
It’s Noelle Mannen, and the Valiants rely on her dribbling and shooting for the majority of their offense. It’s no secret, and Garrett, along with Jazmin Chavez in some stretches, will follow Mannen around everywhere and just make life generally difficult so the other four Pirates can trap or zone or whatever.
“I think if we stick to our defense, our play-hard defense, we’ll be okay,” Garrett said.
Mannen has guided Valley Catholic to a 20-9 mark, with two just league losses. Both were to No. 5 Banks.
Marshfield could face Banks in a semifinal rematch Friday. The Braves open with Baker, the team Marshfield topped in last year's quarterfinals.
“After losing to Banks last year, that just gave us a lot more motivation for this year,” Garrett said. “That’s been one of the things pushing us all season. We just think how we felt about that Banks game and we don’t want to be in that position again.”