Almost four years have passed since the North Medford girls basketball team last ventured to the state tournament.
The winning hasn't stopped, mind you, it's just that the trip to the eight-team tournament at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus has eluded the Black Tornado.
Most of the names have changed since the 2005 berth, except for two constants that have helped keep North Medford consistently in the winner's circle.
And those two would like nothing more than to cap their careers at another state tournament.
Seniors Whitney Hodnett and Erica Schultz have transformed from freshman contributors on that last state-tournament team to leaders of the current version of a Black Tornado squad hungry to get back to the Chiles Center.
They, along with the rest of the senior-heavy North Medford roster, will get their chance tonight when seventh-ranked North Medford hosts Redmond, the Central Valley League's third seed, at 6:30 in a second-round Class 6A playoff game. The winner advances to the state tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday.
Tonight's contest, win or lose, will be the last home game for Schultz, Hodnett and the four other seniors that helped North race to a 21-5 record and a Southwest Conference title — its first-ever outright league championship.
Overall, Hodnett and Schultz will be aiming for their fifth trip to a state tournament, with three of those coming in volleyball.
"I'm sure we'll be excited to play," says Hodnett of tonight's game. "It will probably be a little bit emotional, but our main goal is to win and keep our season alive."
Schultz, a 5-foot-11 post, leads North in scoring with 15-plus points an outing, rebounds at nearly eight per game and contributes on the defensive end with three steals a contest.
"She's always been very, very talented," says North Medford coach Tim Karrick. "She's always had a knack for scoring, but it's her defense that I appreciate the most about her. Erica was not a good defender when I first got her. Now she's turned into one of the best post defenders around."
Hodnett, by Karrick's description, is a jack-of-all-trades.
"She's played point, wing, post," Karrick admires of his 5-11 post/wing, "and she's defended almost every position. She's very athletic, obviously, but she's also very astute.
"She's a real natural leader."
Schultz has received interest from the University of Southern California to possibly continue her basketball and/or volleyball career.
Hodnett is considering staying closer to home to play volleyball for either Oregon State University or the University of Portland.
Quite a leap for the pair, who are the last remaining players on that '05 state-tournament team.
Schultz and Hodnett entered the varsity program at North with obvious, but slightly unpolished, talent.
The two contributed as freshmen to the Tornado's 23-5 record and helped it share a Southern Oregon Conference championship with Ashland.
That team, like this year's version, had a number of seniors who paved the way.
"This group has played together for so long," says Hodnett. "We all get along and have great team chemistry. That's important, especially when we're struggling and things aren't going as well."
Schultz saw action off the bench her freshman year behind senior stars Melissa Eastwold and Michelle Westermann and played a combined 20 minutes over North's two blowout losses at the tournament.
"I really remember playing against Jillian Harmon of Lakeridge," says Schultz of the then-4A player of the year and future Stanford Cardinal player. "I was definitely nervous."
"When you're a freshman, you don't appreciate how big it is going to state," adds Schultz. "Now it's my senior year, and we only have a little bit of season left. It goes by so fast."
Hodnett played a different role her freshman campaign. More of a natural wing, she became the starting point guard when first-team all-conference senior Kailey Bostwick went down with a torn ACL just prior to the state playoffs.
North Medford won both playoff games at home to qualify for the state tournament, with Hodnett guiding the ship.
The Black Tornado, however, went two-and-out in the tourney — at the time, its first trip to the event in seven years.
"I was extremely intimidated, to be honest with you," says Hodnett. "That's probably not uncommon for a freshman, I guess."
North failed to qualify for the postseason in '06 and missed another tournament berth by one game last year.
That has only made Schultz and Hodnett more hungry for another berth.
Only Redmond stands in the way.
"(Redmond) is 20-6, so they're a good basketball team," says Karrick. "I like our chances at home. I thought we had a great crowd on Wednesday. You could feel the energy, and I think that gave us an emotional lift."
The Tornado, a 56-41 winner over Canby on Wednesday in a first-round game, will need continued strong play from fellow seniors Kellie Satterfield and Jana Parker, sophomore point guard Karissa Dixon and juniors Jaci Abeloe, McKenzie Smith and Andrea Egge.
"We need to play fast," says Schultz. "As long as we stay up-tempo and keep it fast, we should be good."
And possibly state-tournament bound.
"There isn't anything I want more than to say that my senior class won two conference titles and went to two state tournaments," Hodnett says. "That would be a great way to go out."
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail email@example.com