Senior Aly Herber is averaging a team-high 13 points per game for Salem Academy this season. (Photo by Aaron Vaubel)
Senior Aly Herber is averaging a team-high 13 points per game for Salem Academy this season. (Photo by Aaron Vaubel)

Salem Academy's volleyball team had an historic breakthrough the last two seasons, winning their first state championships since 1995.

But the school's girls basketball team, with many of the same athletes, has been stuck on the final hurdle, losing in the championship games of the 2A culminating week tournament in 2021 and the state tournament in 2022. Since their only title in 2008, the Crusaders have finished second five times.

Salem Academy is hoping to write a different ending this season.

“There's definitely a hunger,” coach Derek Imig said. “All the volleyball girls have tasted it. I guess the girls basketball program is pulling up the rear of the train.”

Through one month, the Crusaders appear to be a legitimate title threat. They are 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 2A coaches poll, boasting wins over No. 2 Central Linn (9-1) and No. 3 Bandon (9-2).

“They're competing at a high level,” Imig said. “They've got laser focus on what our goals are each and every game.”

Salem Academy graduated its top scorers from last season in Annabelle Brawley and Bailey Peterson, but is winning with an effective mix of experience and up-and-coming sophomores.

Senior post Aly Herber, who suffered a season-ending dislocated ankle in the opening game of her junior year, is scoring a team-high 13 points per game. Sophomore post Haley Ferry (averaging 12 points, eight rebounds) and sophomore guard Lexi Herber (11 points, five assists), who were thrust into key roles as freshmen due to injuries, are showing the benefits of that experience.

“It was a lot of trial by fire for them last year,” Imig said of his current crop of sophomores, which includes a third starter in guard Celia James. “They were going to have to step up this year, ready or not.”

Imig, in his fourth season as the team's coach, said he didn't know what to expect entering the season. The Crusaders returned only two starters in Lexi Herber and senior guard Grace Hinkle, but had experienced players to fill gaps.

“We knew we had some pieces coming back, but we weren't quite sure what it was going to look like,” he said. “Aly missed an entire season. There's just a ton of question marks that come along with that.”

Last season, injuries to Aly Herber and Dylainee Carmony sapped the Crusaders of their size, forcing them to change their identity. This season, they are holding their own in the paint with the return of Aly Herber (5-11) and the emergence of Ferry (5-9).

“Two sub-6-foot posts in some of the other divisions in Oregon wouldn't be anything special, but they're a force to be reckoned with at the 2A level,” Imig said. “That was one area we struggled last year. That has really flipped. We don't see a lot of teams where we're mismatched inside.

“We're so different from last year. Night and day, we're just a different team.”

Salem Academy defeated Central Linn 45-44 in the Black bracket final of the Crusader Classic tournament Dec. 30. Ferry, who made two free throws with 15 seconds left to put the Crusaders ahead, finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.

In a 41-35 home win over Bandon on Dec. 10, Lexi Herber made four three-pointers and scored 17 points for Salem Academy, which opened a 14-5 lead after one quarter and was never seriously threatened.

Salem Academy begins Tri-River Conference play Thursday at Willamina (3-5). The Crusaders expect to be challenged in the Tri-River by No. 4 Gervais (8-2), which beat them in the final of the 2A culminating week tournament in 2021 and shared the conference title with them last season.

“Everyone's been ranking us above them, but Gervais lost only one starter and one sub,” Imig said. “Gervais is legit. We didn't come into the season with any real proven track record.”

Pirates knock off Baker

Senior Trinity Barker scored 15 points as 4A No. 4 Marshfield edged 4A No. 3 Baker 40-39 in the final of the Stayton Holiday Classic on Dec. 30.

Barker scored 10 points in the fourth quarter as the Pirates (8-4) rallied from an eight-point deficit to overtake the Bulldogs (7-1), who were ranked No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 4A coaches poll before suffering their first loss.

Senior Kate Miles gave Marshfield the lead by making a free throw with seven seconds left. Junior Paige MacDuff had 15 rebounds for the Pirates, who avenged a 50-20 loss to Baker in the first round of last year's 4A playoffs.

“It was a big game for us because they beat us so badly in the playoffs last year, and I know the girls were excited to get another shot at them,” Marshfield coach Doug Miles told the Coos Bay World.

Notes: Newberg (7-3) ended Eagle Point's nine-game winning streak Tuesday, beating the visiting Eagles 43-35 behind 16 points from sophomore wing Izabella Macris. Eagle Point (10-2), No. 10 in the 5A coaches poll, led 30-28 after three quarters before the 6A Tigers took control. … No. 4 Amity won the Green bracket at the Crusader Classic, defeating No. 2 Sutherlin 47-44 in the final behind 12 points from freshman Alyssa McMullen. It was the second win over Sutherlin (9-2) this season for Amity (8-3), which topped the Bulldogs 57-46 at home Dec. 9. … Westside Christian senior guard Polina Latysheva had 30 points, eight steals, two assists and two rebounds in a 70-34 win over Harrisburg on Dec. 30.