BANDON — Another losing season had come to Bandon. With one winning record since 1999, the Tigers finished the 2017-18 campaign with a grand total of four wins. The season ended in the same fashion it started: with a 20+ point loss.
Determined to help the program get a few more wins, or at the very least stay competitive in more games, sophomore Ashley Strain went to talk with first-year head coach Jordan Sammons.
Bandon's Traylyn Arana fires a pass as she's guarded by Reedsport's Mackenzie Seeley during a Jan. 13 game at Reedsport High School. Arana has…
“Ashley asks me, ‘Coach, what time tomorrow?’ And I was like, that was our last game, Ash. We’re not going to practice in the morning,” recalls Sammons, now in his third season with the Tigers.
“But she was like, ‘No. What time can I come in and start working for next year?’”
It was the start of something in Bandon. It didn’t suddenly lead to wins — the next season the Tigers won six games — but it was progress. The Tigers approached this current season hoping to make another incremental step forward. Instead, the Tigers have paired the players that have created a culture of working hard with two explosive new guards that have catapulted the team to a 16-1 start.
“This is our year that we’re going to show our community, our state, that we’re here to compete,” said Strain, now a senior captain on the team. “We’re going to be there in Pendleton this year. We’re ready. We’ve been working all this time.”
There was a new emphasis on basketball for the Bandon girls. The program that had 16 players as recently as four years ago had 31 girls out for basketball this season. The team now plays all summer long, has the exclusive 10,000 shot club for those especially committed players and has morning workouts and practices throughout the school year.
It has all been part of the Bandon basketball renaissance. A core group of seniors on the team have seen this growth since their freshman season. Naomi Martin, a captain on this team, was a starter as a freshman, Strain swung between varsity and JV and Allison Hennick used hard work to make varsity by the end of the season. As Hennick sees it, the team’s growth came down to a decision.
“I think, honestly, it just takes that mental focus of just saying one day either you’re going to get better or you’re not,” said Hennick who has battled injuries but will be returning to the lineup soon. “That’s honestly what clicked for us this last year. We thought we had worked hard between our sophomore year and junior year, I’m not saying we didn’t, but this year is completely different. Unlike any other year of how hard we’ve worked.”
With increased hours in the gym and time spent consuming all things basketball, the Tigers were at the middle phase of their progression.
“You kind of learn how to play, learn how to compete and then learn how to win,” Sammons explained. “It kind of goes through that cycle.”
Bandon wandered into the winning phase of this cycle last summer amassing a 21-7 in games around the state. To the Tigers it was a signifier that this team might just be for real. Helping the team to those wins was the team’s new leading scorer Traylyn Arana.
Arana has had a full tour of southern Oregon throughout her high school basketball career. As a freshman she played for Glendale, her sophomore year was at North Valley, and last winter she played for the Glendale boys (there were not enough players for a girls team) before moving to Bandon in the spring. Arana played summer ball with the Bandon girls before her junior year and was back with the team, this time for good, this past summer.
“It was exciting for me because I don’t like losing and so summer ball was great,” she said. “I was like, we’re going to have a great year.”
Suddenly the roster was continuing to grow. Strain and Martin had experience in addition to Hennick and speedy senior Shannon Smith. Junior Kennedy Turner continued to grow in the post, where she was joined by junior Sterling Williams who grew up in Bandon but had previously attended Marshfield.
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Once the real season rolled around, the team was off and running. And winning. The lone loss of the season came against Brookings-Harbor, a team ranked No. 3 in Class 3A.
But then there was one more roster addition: Eduarda Reolon.
“I never knew this state existed. So thank God I’ve met Oregon because it’s really beautiful,” said the exchange student from Brazil, who also happens to play for the Brazil U-16 national team. “This state is so pretty. You have the ocean, the Pacific here and the nature is really — it’s just like, you know ‘Twilight’? It’s just like being in the movie ‘Twilight.’”
Reolon filled out all the paperwork to be an exchange student in the United States and her application was put in the system, where she ended up with the Hennick family in Bandon.
“Eduarda lives with my family and I. When we originally signed up to get her, my mom was like, 'Oh, she says that she plays basketball and wants to try softball, that sounds like a perfect fit for our family,'” said her teammate Hennick.
“And then she gets here and my mom is like — you play on like the national team? And we were like oh my gosh, wait, she’s actually really good.”
While Reolon is still getting used to the difference in how traveling violations are called in the United States vs. back home (in Brazil players get an additional gather step), she quickly fit in with the Bandon team.
During one of the first practices, the Tigers broke up into groups of two to play some one-on-one. It was the explosive guards Arana and Reolon matching up, much to the delight of their teammates.
“Eduarda comes in, and I’ve never seen anyone score on Traylyn like smoothly. And it was really impressive and it was that moment that our whole team started clapping and stuff,” said Hennick. “We were all very encouraging and then Traylyn scored on her and it was super interesting. More intense than probably any game you’ve ever watched.”
While these new additions with unique routes to joining the team were talented, they also fit in with Sammons’ vision of the team.
“So girls coming in new, like hey, I’m talented but I’ve got to work hard to earn my spot. And girls that were here are like hey she’s here, she’s talented, but she’s got to earn her spot,” said Sammons. “It was just a smooth transition for everybody coming in because everybody knew the expectations. You’ve got to get here, you’ve got to work hard and we just kind of go from there.”
With the Tigers all on the same page, the wins have continued to come. But on Friday at 7 p.m., Bandon gets its toughest test of the year in a road game at Coquille. Winning is nothing new for this relentless Red Devils side, which also has one loss (to top-ranked Kennedy), finished second at the Class 2A state tournament a season ago and is ranked second in the coaches poll this winter.
After years of dreading the Coquille game, this has been one circled on the Bandon calendar.
“I think it’s going to be a good test and that’s how I’ve been looking at it for quite a while now,” said Hennick.
“Sometimes you walk into a gym and think, this is going to be a rough game and other times you walk into a gym and you get excited to play your competitor. Although Coquille makes us all slightly nervous, I think they’re just as nervous as we are. And I think for us, there’s at least a little bit of excitement and I know that for sure.”