Forest Grove will rely on its experience to compete for a conference championship in 2006-07

The Forest Grove girls basketball team lost some key elements from last year - namely point guard Chanie Norbury and sharpshooter Monica Guizar - but the Lady Vikings still have everything they need to make some noise in the Pacific Conference this season.

Forest Grove returns three starters from last year and seven players overall, giving head coach Po Waiwaiole a wealth of talent as the team attempts to unseat Tualatin as the class of the league.

Tualatin ran the table in conference play last season and ultimately finished third in the state. The Timberwolves lost some of the big names off that squad but remain the team to beat in Pacific Conference play.

'My goal is to beat Tualatin this year and win the league,' said Waiwaiole. 'But they're still the team to beat until someone actually beats them. I think they're going to be more beatable this year than they were last year, but that may just be the difference between being otherworldly and being really, really good.'

For the Lady Vikings, the task of overtaking Tualatin will fall largely to their three returning starters: Sallye Alexander, Sarah Amina and Amanda Godinez.

Alexander is back after a stellar junior campaign that saw her average 18.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game while earning All-League status. The 6-foot-5 senior center is hungrier than ever, hoping to lead the league in scoring while guiding the Lady Vikings back to the playoffs after narrowly missing out last season.

'Sallye put in a lot of work in the offseason to get stronger overall,' said Waiwaiole. 'She's always been a prolific scorer, but she's been working hard on her rebounding and defense to become a more complete player. I'm expecting big things from her on both ends of the floor.'

Also back is Amina, a slashing wing who was second on the team in scoring last year at 10.0 points per contest. Her ability to knock down jump shots and create off the dribble should open up scoring opportunities for both herself and Alexander, who has already committed to play college ball at Humboldt State next year.

'Sarah's got a lot of confidence right now,' said Waiwaiole. 'Last year she had the ability to do a lot of things, she just didn't always know where to be or what to do. This year she's shooting without hesitation and taking the ball hard to the basket. She's not afraid to go inside and mix it up.'

Waiwaiole will turn to Godinez to run the point this year. The heady senior plays a contrasting style to Norbury, who ran the show last season. Norbury was a physical player who drove the lane often and relished contact and flashy passes. Godinez, on the other hand, plays a bit slower and more under control.

'Amanda really understands things well,' said Waiwaiole. 'She's a crafty ballhandler and really plays under control all the time.'

Also factoring into the mix will be junior Nikki Kemper and senior April Maslen. Kemper will start opposite Amina on the wing, while Maslen will provide another physical presence in the paint.

'Nikki's only got one speed and it's full speed,' said Waiwaiole. 'She's not big but she plays big and really attacks the basket. April is a good complement to Sallye. She's not as tall but she's very physical. A lot of the girls are calling her a 'beast' at practice.'

Junior Taylor Janac and senior Tina Freeman should see plenty of playing time off the bench, and freshman point guard Rebecca Kelsay will help out with ballhandling duties. Other likely contributors will be Sarah Rivera, Rebecca Aguilar and Chantal Martinez.

The Lady Viks also picked up Banks transfer Kendra Berning, who averaged 11.9 points per game last year for the Lady Braves, but she is currently nursing a severely sprained ankle and Waiwaiole is not sure when or if she will be available. Forest Grove is also without its top outside shooter, Breena Malloy, who tore her ACL last year and will likely miss the entire season.

Still, the expectation in Forest Grove is to make the playoffs, but Waiwaiole laughs at the new 6A classification which has four of the league's six teams qualifying for postseason play.

'Personally I think unless you're really bad, you should make the playoffs,' he said with a laugh. 'Virtually everybody makes the playoffs, so that's obviously our first goal. But yeah, I think we're in a position where we can compete at the top of the conference.'

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