Girls basketball: North Marion's Umbenhower reps for Huskies one last time
For the last four years, the North Marion and Cascade girls basketball teams have been bitter rivals on the court. The two teams have clashed in a series of memorable games, as the Huskies have attempted to dethrone the four-time league champion Cougars in pursuit of supremacy over the Oregon West Conference.
But at the annual Oregon Athletic Coaches Association All-Star basketball series, North Marion point guard Ally Umbenhower had to set aside her feelings and team up with her former adversaries as part of the West All-Star team that featured Cascade teammates Halle Wright and Kelsey Molan, led by Cougars coach Mark Stevens.
"We've always been enemies and we've never known each other as friends, but now that we're done competing against each other, it's shifted a little bit," Umbenhower said.
Led by Wright, the four-time Conference Player of the Year, the Cougars have owned the Oregon West since the Huskies moved from the Tri-Valley in 2015. The Huskies have always played second or third fiddle to the Cougars in that span, losing eight consecutive games before pulling out an emphatic victory over Cascade in the final game of the regular season in February.
But the Cougars got the final word in the playoffs, beating North Marion 41-39 in the semifinals to deny the Huskies a trip to the 4A State Championship game. The two teams went on to finish second and third, respectively, to cap off the 2017-18 season.
Two and a half months later, Umbenhower, a Second Team All-State selection this year, once again donned her forest green North Marion jersey to represent the Huskies on June 15 and 16. The annual All-Star series at West Salem High School puts a spotlight on the state's best seniors from the 2A, 3A and 4A Classifications.
The time away from the game helped ease the tension between the rivals, and Umbenhower admitted that her relationship with Molan and Wright hasn't always been merely as Huskies versus Cougars. They have developed a respect on the basketball court for nearly half their lives, playing against each other in various youth competitions since elementary school.
"It's a little hard, but now that we aren't playing them anymore, I feel like our relationship is a little bit different, because we've grown up playing against each other since we were like 10 years old at (the Oregon) Hoopla," Umbenhower said.
The players at the All-Star series were divided into four teams based on the region in which they play, with Umbenhower joining a West squad that turned out to be head and shoulders above the competition. In addition to the Cascade girls, Umbenhower's team included Kalina Rojas, Shawnie Spink and Jaden Moore, of the 3A State Champion Dayton Pirates, along with Sydney Brown and Aimee Smith, of 3A runner-up Salem Academy. The roster was rounded out by Kylie Anderson, of Willamina, and Morgan Croxford, of Amity.
It was a veritable all-star team among all-star teams. The West dominated the East in the first game of the tournament, outscoring its opponents in every quarter to run away with an 85-55 victory. The leading scorer this year at North Marion, Umbenhower got the opportunity to sit back and play more o f a distributor role, deferring to her various all-state teammates to take on the heavy scoring load.
"It's a lot more fun, because every single girl can handle the ball and score, so you just kind of have to do your own thing and you can rely on other people more," Umbenhower said. "You can play your own game, and we all mesh together and play with each other."
Still, Umbenhower had opportunities to showcase her characteristic shooting touch and disregard for self-preservation, knocking down a 3-pointer and absorbing contact in the paint to generate free throws, where she finished 4-for-4 from the line. Umbenhower finished with seven points, all of which were scored in the second quarter.
"I've definitely done better, but it's still a lot of fun," she said. "I don't really need to play my best, because I have girls around me who are better than I am or just as good."
The championship game the next night was even more lopsided, as the West defeated the South 97-41 to run away with this year's title.
"All of us have a really good connection, and you can kind of see it on the court," Umbenhower said. "It's a lot of fun playing against girls I've been competing against the last four years of my life, and even longer than that."
From here, Umbenhower turns her attention to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, where she will be attending school this fall. She will continue to play basketball with a traveling club team, but will focus more of her attention on studying nursing.
"It was a really tough decision to not play, but I feel like I can play at Grand Canyon with half the amount of commitment than I would at a college," Umbenhower said. "I've always loved babies since I was a kid, so I want to be a labor and delivery nurse."