Lexi Clark and Taylor Berdar are a rare commodity on the University High School girls basketball team this season: they are seniors. In fact, they are the only seniors the Titans have.
“We’re a young team this year,” longtime assistant coach Mark Kuipers laughed. “We’ve been a young team the last few years, and I still don’t understand exactly how that happens.”
Of the 12-players coach Mark Stinson selected for the U-Hi varsity, five are sophomores and a sixth, guard Ashley Woods, is a freshman.
“We were young two years ago and last year we got even younger,” Stinson laughed. “Last year we had one senior and this year we have two. It’s been a while since we’ve had five or six seniors all on one team.”
A team so young and with so little experience playing together invariably encounters growing pains. Clark and Berdar want to make that process as painless as possible.
“I remember what it was like for me when I was first on the varsity,” Clark, a 5-foot-7 guard, said. “I remember not being able to do anything! I kept making mistakes. But the older players took me aside and they told me that it was OK, that everyone makes mistakes.”
“It takes a while before you’re comfortable,” Berdar, a 5-7 wing added. “You have to learn a lot about how we talk on the varsity. For example, coach Stinson is an impulsive guy and he sometimes says thing in the spur of the moment that may sound kind of harsh – and he totally doesn’t mean it that way. You have to learn how to listen and how to hear what the coaches have to tell you.”
The pair has worked to make the transition to this year’s varsity as comfortable as possible. Over the summer they helped with arrangements for the team’s annual trip to the Oregon Coast for a summer tournament.
“We had a really good summer season,” Clark said. “But summer basketball isn’t the same thing as the school season.”
“For one thing, everybody is more laid back over the summer and I don’t think anyone takes it as seriously as they do now,” Berdar added. “Our coaches are more relaxed over the summer. There’s more of an urgency now.”
The two captains have a great deal of experience playing together. Both play soccer and have been instrumental in that team’s success. Berdar was a first-team All-GSL defender and Clark a second-team midfielder for the Titans soccer team in the fall.
Clark is in her fourth year on the University varsity; Berdar is in her third.
“I think it’s a big advantage to be successful in another sport,” Stinson said. “It’s important, I think, for kids to have a full high school experience and doing different things is part of that. And if an athlete is successful in one sport it’s never a surprise to see them succeed in another.
“Lexi and Taylor have been playing together for a long time – through soccer and through AAU basketball – since they were little. They have a lot of experience together and they understand what it takes to be a successful team.”
It’s no surprise that Clark and Berdar are close. In fact, the two are so in sync that they frequently finish each other’s thoughts. Clearly they are of one mind when it comes to building a successful team in order to create a successful season – the goal both list No. 1.
It all starts, they insist, with solid team chemistry. To get there, all of the forces that tend to divide teams – things like age and playing time – have to be put aside.
“Some of the teams we’ve had the past couple years have all had different groups,” Berdar said. “We ended up with a couple different cliques instead of everyone being together as one unit.”
So far, the co-captains insist, their efforts are paying dividends.
“This is the best team, chemistry-wise, that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Clark said. “On some of the teams we’ve had here, players have broken off into separate groups and that’s not what you want.”
“This group is the best we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Clark said. “We’ve come together as one unit. We’re all getting to be friends and we enjoy being together.”
The pair are determined to see University reach the state Class 3A tournament. The Titans played in four consecutive Class 4A tournaments from 2004 through 2007, but have not been back since. A year ago the school dropped to Class 3A.
“This team is good enough to get there,” Clark said. “That’s our goal and I think we’re all on the same page with it.”
“We have to make sure we’re all working together and that we stick with one another,” Berdar said. “We still have to learn how to become a team – we have to learn that we all have each other’s back and that we can all depend on one another. But that’s coming – we’re going to get there. I think we can all see it.”