Playing on a team with the premier high school girls guard in the country, South Salem’s Dani Harley does not feel like she’s in the shadow of fellow senior Evina Westbrook.
In fact, she never even thinks about it.
Harley, an accomplished player in her own right, is averaging 15 points, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists for the defending two-time Class 6A state champions. She scored 18 points and hit five 3-pointers in last season’s state championship game victory over Tigard.
Still, when people talk about No. 3 South Salem (17-3, 10-0 Greater Valley Conference), Westbrook’s name is sure to surface.
“I don’t really care about the fame and all that,” said Harley, a 5-7 guard who was named second team all-GVC last season. “I just wanna play. As long as I’m playing, I’m fine.”
Harley will continue her basketball career next season at George Fox University in Newberg, a perennial NCAA Division III power in the Northwest Conference.
Her focus now is on helping South Salem win a third consecutive state championship. She is the Saxons’ second-leading scorer behind Westbrook, who is averaging 24.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 5.4 steals.
Westbrook, who is headed to the University of Tennessee, would understand if Harley felt slighted.
“But she’s never, ever come off like that,” Westbrook said. “Never one time can I ever recall that she’s felt like that. If anything she’s always like congratulations on everything that I do. I think that says a lot about her character. If it was the other way around I don’t know how I’d feel.”
Harley has excelled in a Robin role to Westbrook’s Batman, not that she views it that way. They met at The Hoop in fourth grade and “we’ve always been good friends since,” Harley said.
When South Salem defeated St. Mary’s in 2015 to win its first state championship since 1976, Harley was a part-time starter on a team that included Westbrook and Katie McWilliams, the 6A Player of the Year who is now a sophomore guard at Oregon State.
Last season Harley was a starter on a team that featured Westbrook, the 6A Player of the Year, and Jordan Woodvine, who is now a freshman forward at Boise State.
Harley and Westbrook are the only returning starters from the 2015-16 squad. Harley primarily plays shooting guard, looking to hit 3-pointers or drive to the basket, with Westbrook as the main ball handler.
“They work well together and support each other,” South Salem coach Nick McWilliams said. “They’re trying to help each other be better and help our team be better. It’s a good relationship and I think Dani is willing to do what it takes to help us be successful.”
South Salem has been successful this season after a rocky start. The Saxons opened the season with double-digit losses to Southridge and Sheldon, teams they could see again in the state tournament. They also lost by 33 points to La Salle, the state’s top-ranked 5A team, on Dec. 30 in the Nike Interstate Shootout.
South Salem takes an eight-game winning streak into Friday’s game at West Albany. Other than a two-point win against McNary and a seven-point win at Forest Grove, the Saxons have won all of their league games by at least 14 points.
Harley is well aware that the road to a three-peat will be difficult.
“Recently we’ve been kind of starting out slow,” Harley said. “Once we get to state (playoffs) we can’t have games where we’re starting out slow because teams are gonna be just too good. But I feel like we can do it again if we play to our potential.”
Senior guard Hannah Hersh, who has been friends with Harley since their preschool days, said Harley plays a key role for the Saxons.
“There’s been games where we thought we were gonna lose and all of a sudden she comes back with those 3-pointers. She just really brings the team up,” Hersh said. “When we’re feeling down she’ll hit one and we’re like, ‘OK, maybe we can do this.’”
Harley has put up impressive numbers this season, but it’s not something she tracks. We’re talking about a selfless, team-oriented player.
Ask Harley what her scoring average is and she’d be guessing.
“My dad told me before, but I forgot,” Harley said with a smile. “My big thing is how many 3s I can make this game.”
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
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