MERLIN, Ore. – Most high school programs go through ups and downs as talent comes and goes. It’s rare, though, that you see the kind of swing that’s happened at North Valley. In 2009, the Knights went 0-21.
“Five years ago we had some kids that played basketball,” head coach Jeff Nelson said, “but you know they played basketball from November until whenever we were done.”
Just four seasons later, North Valley is undefeated heading into the 4A state tournament.
“For a team in high school to go undefeated through the regular season and then a conference tournament, it’s a special season,” Nelson said.”
“It’s been a dream come true,” Knights senior JJ Chirnside said. “I never pictured us going undefeated this season. We’ve pushed each other so hard this season. Then the off-season, we’ve just done such great things this season and I don’t want it to stop.”
The Knights have a talented senior class led by Chirnside and Kevin Brazille. The current seniors were in eighth grade when North Valley had its winless season, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed.
“We thought about it a lot,” Brazille said. “Watching that class when we were eighth graders and wathcing them lose a lot, it wasn’t the best thing to watch.”
However, that group of eighth graders was determined to turn it around at North Valley.
“I wanted to get that season turned around so we didn’t have to go through that,” Chirnside said, “and we didn’t have to go through all the suffering. I wanted to be the winners.”
“We’ve always done really well,” senior Tristan Burke said, “all the way through middle school. We knew if we worked really hard we’d be good in high school, too.”
Last year was the breakout season, a perfect record in the Skyline League and a trip to the state tournament that ended too soon. Now the Knights are looking to make up for last year’s disappointment, and the seniors are trying to finish what they started four years ago.
“We’ve known each other since we were kids,” Brazille said, “so I mean just coming up and knowing we have this opportunity to do something special and it’s us as kids again, it feels great.”
“Us growing up together, we always had a goal that we just wanted to win state,” senior Connor Vodicka said, “and we just had that set mentality that, no matter what high school we go to, we’re all going to play together. We all just have that chemistry that keeps building up, and we all just want that one goal and that’s a state title.”