A season of strides


After a winless league season a year ago, Siuslaw found its stride to the post season this year

March 7, 2020 — “The smiles and jubilation on the kids’ faces is pretty special,” Siuslaw boys basketball coach Dylan Perry said. “It makes coaching very rewarding when you see that kind of excitement and satisfaction on the kids face after you’ve seen how much blood, sweat and tears they put into practice.”

It was moments like that, in the locker rooms after a hard-fought game throughout the season, that made the 2019/20 basketball season special for Perry. He reflected on the season after the team had its final game last week against Woodburn, which they eventually lost, 39-60.

Pre-game, Perry kept the talk focused on the little things — taking care of the ball, not turning it over, playing solid defense.

“Just try to keep it as simple as possible. I didn’t want to put too much on their plate and get stressed out. This wasn’t bigger than just playing a basketball game.”

Woodburn’s energy was high from the start, the lights out as they ran out with music playing.

“Everyone was hootin’ and hollerin’. It was a great atmosphere. We came out and matched their intensity.”

Perry said that a number of great plays the first quarter and teamwork got the Viks to a 21-11 lead.

“I talked to a couple people, and they said if we could play the way we did that first quarter and part of the second quarter for the full four, I have a feeling we would be playing into March,” Perry said.

But in the second quarter, Woodburn began to find its footing, cutting Siuslaw’s lead down to just 1 point.

“There’s several other games earlier in the season where we had the same type of thing, coming out really hot and playing well,” Perry said. “But for whatever reason, we just couldn’t maintain that style of play some games.”

One of the reasons in this game was Woodburn’s physicality.

“Up in your face, high pressure,” Perry said. “It’s playoff basketball. I’m not going to make any excuses, but in playoffs they let a little bit more stuff go as far as calling fouls. They don’t call everything as tight as it is early in the season. “The refs can’t call every single foul, every single time. There’s teams that play really physical who get four, five, six fouls as they go, but the refs aren’t going to call it every time.”

Woodburn’s older, bigger players wore the Viks out.

“It took a toll, having to keep that mental focus we had in the first quarter — getting certain scoring opportunities and being successful on defense,” Perry said.

Perry described it as the “story of the season all in one game.”

The point gap between the two teams kept widening throughout the rest of the game. In the last few minutes of the fourth, with Woodburn up by double digits, Perry started switching our players to let everyone get a chance to play.

“I wanted everybody to experience that, get a taste of it,” he said. “Maybe a little excitement that will motivate them through the off season, getting them to work harder.”

Plus, the kids who show up to practice but aren’t on the court as much, “They deserve credit and an opportunity to play in the game we’ve been working so hard for,” Perry said.

But despite the effort, the team was disappointed in the locker room.

And then the realization came: The season was really over.

“We’re not going to practice anymore, we’re not going to play any more games together,” Perry said. “That added more to the mood.”

But Perry focused on how well they did, on how proud he was of them.

“Look at how far we’ve come after being the last-ranked team in state last year, only getting five wins,” he said. “We didn’t win a single game in league, and now we’re coming in, working hard in the off season. I told them not to hang their heads, this is part of a story.”

Perry chalks a big part of why the Viks had such a successful season this year to age.

“Last year we were a young team,” he said. “For younger kids to get those varsity minutes is invaluable. When you have the opportunity to play tougher competition, it’s going to make you rise up to match that.”

With Siuslaw in the Sky Em league, one of the toughest in the state, the players also knew they had to work hard from the beginning.

“And they did,” Perry said. “I know our record at the beginning was 0-5, but we played very competitively in a lot of those games.”

The drive was there, but they had to learn how to win games.

“They had to execute down the stretch and do the little things to come out with a victory,” Perry said. “As the season progressed, we started to figure it out. We understood what it took to win in the fourth quarter.”

With six wins under its belt after a hard beginning, the team started to have fun when league started.

“The level of competition and intensity steps up,” Perry said. “The games start to matter, and you see the level of intensity and focus in the kids’ eyes grow. They’re giving it their all because there’s only a handful of games left in the season.”

The first league game, an overtime buzzer beating win at Cottage Grove, was a standout for Perry, especially since they didn’t win any league games the year prior.

“They battled hard and it was a pretty fun one in the locker room afterwards to celebrate that type of victory,” Perry said.

They battled top-ranked Marist and Marshfield’s large bench with spirit, giving both teams a run for their money.

“And then beating Elmira twice, especially the last game at their place — That was a big game for us because we knew we secured a league playoff,” Perry said. “That type of accomplishment for our guys after working so hard last year and this, to see it come full circle and see them get rewarded for their hard work was great.”

And then there was the last league game against Junction City during senior night, an overtime win.

“Just to jump from 0-5 to 5-5 in league was a big deal to me,” Perry said. “I know our kids were excited about it, even though we all know we could have had a better record.”

The lone senior who played his last game at Woodburn was Kiger Johnson.

“He’s just one of those kids that you enjoy having in your program,” Perry said. “He did everything, he never complained about playing time. He always showed up with a smile, ready to compete. He never backed down and was never scared of getting after the ball.”

But the biggest attribute of Johnson’s that will be missed by Perry is his positive attitude.

“I think all the guys on our team would agree that there’s going to be a piece of him that’ll be missing from our team, and hard to replace,” Perry said. “His attitude, jokes and laughter — it’s going to be hard to replace him.”

As for the rest of the team, Perry is amazed how much the boys have grown in the past year.

“I have our team picture from last year, and it’s pretty unbelievable what a year’s difference makes,” he said. “It’s exciting to think about what can happen next year. I’m proud of how they all played and stuck it out, continuing to fight even when things weren’t going our way.”

As for next year’s chances, Perry said the team has a great shot at making it as far as this year, if not further.

“We had a very long, serious talk with all of our guys about what it’s going to take to be able to be a state playoff team and hopefully bring home a trophy next year,” he said. “We’re all holding each other accountable for that and we’re all pushing each other to be the best we can be.”

Perry says the team is ready for it.

“I can see the drive and the focus in the kids — They want to win. They’re great kids, great students and great athletes. It’ll be fun to see where they go with that.”

Many of the Siuslaw players take part in summer basketball starting in May, with games in June.

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