6A/5A Hardwood Previews

Tryouts are done, preseason polls are out, and we currently sit nine days away from Tip-Off Week. The idea of having a full season of hoops is one the state has craved since the state championships were canceled for 4A-6A in March 2020. We got a small taste of it in the shortened Spring, but its nothing compared to the breakneck speed, marathon season that we get every year. Let’s kick things off with discussing the 6A/5A scene, analyzing expectations, and maybe even making some projections for the season.

Class 6A

South Medford finds themselves as the consensus #1 team entering the season, receiving the nod from the coaches and in the Elite Oregon Girls preseason power rankings. Although they shed a bunch on seniors, they have a solid foundation returning that is more than capable of going all the way this season, with an opportunity to show it on December 4th against Clackamas in the Luke Roth Showcase. Speaking of the Cavs, they return most of the roster that won the Mt. Hood in the Spring, with talk of an impressive freshman class rolling in that can challenge the best in 6A. This just amplifies the importance of this early matchup, which will likely serve as a heavyweight fight down at Sheldon.

Youthful returns are running rampant across the state, with 6A being no exception to the trend. The biggest example is Benson, who start as a Top 5 team in the state with a roster that didn’t lose anyone over the offseason. They boast a 6’3″ sophomore in the middle, alongside some talented wings and defenders that mold this team into a state contender. South Salem and West Salem come out of the Mountain Valley Conference with youthful teams looking to make their mark this season. The Titans didn’t graduate anyone, and are arguably the best positioned team in the conference. West Salem got better as the season went along and finished it with a close battle with 5A #1 Corvallis, showing some glimpses of what they can do this winter. South Salem battled hard all season, truly being better than their 10-5 record represents. Many of their key players from the Spring were underclassmen, giving Coach Lewis a bowl of chemistry ready to be unleashed in the early going of the season. The Lady Saxons look to be a team to watch, with some early prep in store before the tough road really starts for them.

The Spring was the season dominated by the Southwest Conference and Three Rivers League, but the TRL has lost its muscle with the droves of seniors and talent departing over the offseason, while the Southwest Conference will remain the best conference with Sheldon and South Medford on top. The Mt. Hood Conference looks primed to fight the Metro League for the second best in 6A claim, as they both have squads that will certainly give them more than one Top 10 team this season. Barlow returns everyone except one on a team that went 13-4 in Spring, Clackamas has a studded freshman class arriving with huge expectations, and Central Catholic returns everyone to their roster from a respectable Spring campaign. Coaches have high expectations for Beaverton and Jesuit, placing them at the #2 and #3 spots in the preseason poll. The Beavers shed six seniors and look to have a growing pain period, while Jesuit returns seven juniors to a team that almost knocked off a West Linn team led by Arizona commit Aaronette Vonleh, and a Wilsonville team anchored by Emily Bishop this Spring. Westview and Mountainside also have senior studded rosters that will fight with the above teams in league this season.

Other teams to keep an eye on include: Sherwood, Wells, Cleveland, McNary, McMinnville, Liberty, Oregon City, St. Mary’s Academy, and Newberg.

Conference Predictions – Top 4

PIL: Benson, Wells, Cleveland, Grant

Metro: Jesuit, Beaverton, Westview, Mountainside

Pacific: Sherwood, Liberty, McMinnville, Forest Grove

Mt. Hood: Barlow, Clackamas, Central Catholic, Sandy

Three Rivers: West Linn, Oregon City, Tualatin, St. Mary’s Academy

Mountain Valley: West Salem, South Salem, McNary, Bend

Southwest: South Medford, Sheldon, South Eugene, Grants Pass

Class 5A

Just like South Medford, Corvallis enters the winter campaign as the consensus #1 team in 5A by myself and the coaches. The Spartans find themselves in better shape than their 6A counterparts, retaining most of their roster on a team that went undefeated in Spring action and set a new expectation of excellence in Corvallis. Churchill and Silverton enter as a couple team’s in hot pursuit of the state title, looking to hunt down Corvallis and win a 5A title this winter. The Lancers and Foxes are loaded top to bottom with talent, bringing in depth that can compete with anyone, and Silverton gets their first crack at Corvallis on December 14th in an early season conference battle.

One of my favorite teams to keep an eye on this season is Putnam, a program with a loaded junior class and only one senior, setting up what could be a two year run for them at 5A glory. With Wilsonville retooling, the Kingsmen look to take over the NWOC in 2021-22 and perhaps go even further, with a December 4th showdown with Churchill looming down in Eugene on opening weekend. Crescent Valley and Springfield present interesting cases for their upward trend this season, with the Raiders bringing in a good crop of freshman this season, while Springfield has an experienced team back that might surprise some. Coaches were also high on Crater, La Salle, and Ridgeview, putting them 5th, 7th, and 8th in the preseason poll to open the campaign.

5A isn’t overly deep with teams this season, as I only considered 10 total for the preseason power rankings until games start to happen. Amongst the word going through the vines, Willamette is a team I’ve heard chatter about as a team to watch. Just like Crescent Valley and Clackamas, the Wolverines are bringing in freshman that look to make immediate impacts on the court and pay dividends. Lebanon has recently hit the grapevine of discussion, a squad that returns some big post players and a better foundation than they’ve had in past seasons. It’ll be a challenge for both in their conferences, but it could be a setup for an awesome 2022-23 season. As for teams outside the vine, I’m banking high on Pendleton and West Albany having strong seasons, as both boast hugely experienced rosters who can use that as leverage in a season that youth seems to be prevalent the most. Talk seems to be skeptical around their long-term status, but I think they’ll both be primed for possible deep runs in the playoffs.

Other teams to watch: Wilsonville, Scappoose, North Eugene, Redmond, Crook County

Conference Predictions – Top 4

NWOC: Putnam, La Salle Prep, Wilsonville, Milwaukie

Midwestern: Churchill, Crater, Springfield, Thurston

Mid-Willamette: Corvallis, Silverton, West Albany, Crescent Valley

Intermountain: Pendleton, Ridgeview, Redmond, Crook County

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