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After Oregon State's storybook season ends, the team believes there's more to come: 'We can play with anybody'

Oregon State guard Talia von Oelhoffen (22) reacts during a loss to South Carolina in the Elite Eight on Sunday in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Oregon State wasn’t supposed to make a Final Four, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t want to.

During the preseason, the Beavers were picked to place 10th in the Pac-12. That kind of finish wouldn't have put them anywhere close to the NCAA tournament. Instead, Oregon State exceeded all expectations, finishing fourth in a tough Pac-12, earning a 3 seed in the tournament and battling its way to the Elite Eight, where it lost 70-58 to No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday.

It wasn’t enough for them, but it’s all they got.

“I think all year people have been saying this team is young, this team has no seniors, but we've been so present, and it's why we were able to go to the Elite Eight this year,” OSU guard Talia von Oelhoffen said. “It wasn't, ‘Let's see how far we can go and then next year go all the way.’ It was ‘We’re in it this year.’”

Expectations were low from those outside the program. And even von Oelhoffen, Oregon State’s leader, gets why.

“When I saw that we were picked 10th, I didn’t take it as disrespect,” she said. “I mean, we probably should have been picked 10th. We won four games, and we missed the postseason.”

Oregon State went 4-14 in the Pac-12 last season, and 13-18 overall. But as the year went on, the losses got closer. The Beavers lost to Stanford 63-60, then 75-73 to Utah a few days later. And by the end of the conference slate, with no postseason on the horizon, von Oelhoffen started to look forward.

“[People] had no idea what was coming,” she said. “But I saw it in this team from the beginning. We all saw it in each other. The belief was here the whole way. And then when you get here, it’s funny to see that we were picked 10th.”

A team that was supposed to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 hung with the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks.

“This team, it rivals any team I've ever been a part of,” head coach Scott Rueck said after the loss. “What they did this year is not common. It's not normal. We're not supposed to be here.”

Oregon State caught a lot of people by surprise this season by advancing to the Elite Eight after beating Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
Oregon State caught a lot of people by surprise this season by advancing to the Elite Eight after beating Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Things are about to change for the Beavers — big time.

This season was all about surpassing expectations, but next season, the pressure will be on. That’s what happens when you win 27 games, advance to the Elite Eight and take South Carolina to the brink. This season, no one saw the Beavers coming. Next season, people will be looking for them. And they'll be playing in a new conference, the WCC, after the collapse of the Pac-12.

They’re ready.

“The grit, the effort that we have, and all the work we’ve put in,” freshman Donovyn Hunter said. “I think it comes down to proving ourselves right. We can’t focus on what other people think, whether they believe in us or don’t believe in us. As a team, we focus on our inter circle.”

Every player on roster — barring any transfers — will return next season. They’ll be helped by the experience of a deep tournament run, and the lessons that came with it.

Oregon State’s starting lineup this season was made up of Hunter (a freshman), Raegan Beers and Timea Gardiner (sophomores) and von Oelhoffen and AJ Marotte (juniors). Dominika Paurova, another freshman, and Lily Hansford, a sophomore, also saw significant minutes for the Beavers.

And throughout their March Madness run, the young team that wasn’t supposed to be here, competed with grit and maturity.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Rueck looked at the scoreboard. His team was down 12 points.

Can you do it, he asked.

“Looking around in the eyes of my teammates, we all believed that we could,” Beers said. “Obviously we fell short tonight, but we learned that we can play with anybody.”.