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Denise Comfort, Madison Elliott, Breanna Partney and Lauren Mills have racked up individual awards for La Grande the past four seasons, but a state title still eludes the four seniors. BRAD MOSHER/The Observer
by CASEY KELLAS / The Observer
La Grande’s senior quartet look to go out on top at state
The La Grande girls basketball team has seen its fair share of success the past four seasons under head coach Doug Girdner.
During that span the Lady Tigers have won 56 games going into tonight’s quarterfinals showdown with Banks at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
And a major reason behind the majority of those 56 wins has been the play of
La Grande’s four seniors: Lauren Mills, Breanna Partney, Denise Comfort and Madison Elliott.
Those four players have LHS back in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2003, where they have a chance to end their high school careers on top.
“It feels really good,” Mills said of qualifying for the quarterfinals.
“I’ve been waiting to get there since my freshman year. We’ve (the seniors) been playing together since middle school, so it’s like a dream come true.
“We had a pact together that we were going to make it to the state tournament.”
Partney added that it is a “huge accomplishment.”
And she’s right.
The past two seasons hasn’t ended the way the Lady Tigers had hoped.
Each year they were bounced out in the first round by the eventual state champions.
Last year, they fell to Henley (67-51), while in 2011 they lost to Cascade (58-44).
“We truly believe that we were one of the top five teams in the state last year,” Girdner said.
“It’s just that sometimes the match-ups are brutal.”
Both of those first round games were on the road, however, while this season La Grande had a good enough regular season record to get a bye in the play-in round before hosting a first-round contest.
The comfort of their home floor led the Lady Tigers to a 65-43 victory over Madras and a trip to Gill for the first time in 10 years.
“The home playoff game was huge,” Girdner said.
But, so too, were the early exits the past two seasons.
Girdner said that the first round defeats in each of the last two years motivated the girls to put in added work in the off-season.
“They always knew they were good, but this year they knew they had to work harder,” Girdner said.
“This year they were more focused in practice instead of content. They were always there. At least two seniors were the first ones to practice everyday.”
Mills admitted that the losses didn’t sit well with her personally.
“That was our fuel,” Mills said. “That’s what got us going. It motivated us to step up earlier in the year.”
Since starting the season 2-2, the Lady Tigers have ripped off wins in 18 of their past 21 contests. They have outscored opponents by 16 points per game on average this season.
But the thing that Girdner has been so impressed with is his players’ mental make-up. He said that all four are more than just quality basketball players.
“They’re not just examples on the floor, they’re examples all week long,” Girdner said.
But on the court, they are a quite the formidable quartet.
“Maddy is the leader on the floor,” he said. “And she can hit the baseline jumper as good as anyone in the state. And Breanna is rarely outworked. Lauren has really stepped up her defense this season. Denise just does a little bit of everything.”
The fact that the four have played so long together has undoubtedly helped this season.
“We’ve always been friends, and we’ve been playing together for so long,” Partney said. “We don’t even have to look at each other (on the court), we just know what the other person is going to do.”
Girdner hopes that familiarity, along with the experiences of the past three seasons, will help in Gill Coliseum.
He said that he had Comfort, Partney and Mills attend an elite camp last summer at Oregon State University.
And the coach had one thing in mind.
“I told them I wanted them to start the season where we were going to end it.”
Well here they are. Back in Corvallis, and just three wins away from finishing their season on top.