When Heather Roberts decided last spring to step down as Lakeridge's girls basketball coach, most people figured there was no way the Pacers could replace one of the best coaches in the state. That concern was short-lived, though, when Lakeridge signed Mike Melin, who's also regarded as one of the top coaches around.
Melin comes to the Pacers from Glencoe, a team he recently led to the state semifinals. But Glencoe dropped down to the 5A ranks this year and Melin wanted to coach at the 6A level. So, when the Lakeridge job opened up, Melin jumped at the chance.
It's not the first time that Melin has followed in the footsteps of a high-profile coach. When he took over at Glencoe, Melin replaced Mark Neffendorf, who a short time before had led the Crimson Tide to an appearance in the state championship game. Melin not only continued Neffendorf's winning tradition, he improved on it.
Melin expects to do the same at Lakeridge, although the timetable for a return trip to semifinals has been left open.
The new coach isn't sure what to expect from this year's group, especially since three other Three Rivers League teams (Oregon City, Lake Oswego and West Linn) are currently ranked in the state's top 10. But Melin likes his team's chemistry and the players' willingness to do whatever it takes to win. One thing is for sure: there will be no shortage of experience on this year's squad.
'The biggest thing is we have a lot of returning seniors,' Melin said. 'So, I think we have the possibility of making the playoffs if we really hard work.'
In addition to all of the hard work, the Pacers had to spend a lot of time learning new plays while also adapting to a new coach. Fortunately, they didn't wait until the start of preseason practice to work on those things.
'Thank goodness for summertime,' Melin said. 'In the summertime you can just have a lot of fun. We got to know each other and then took the girls to Tahoe for a week, and that really helped.
'It made for a fairly easy transition, but we're still getting to know each other.'
While the honeymoon stage continued, the start of the season wouldn't wait. Through Tuesday, the Pacers had already played three games. They won their opener in overtime against Ashland, then dropped a close contest to Crescent Valley and lost a 13-point decision to Jesuit on Tuesday.
In those three games, Kai Schmidt led the Pacers in scoring twice. Against Ashland, she had 16 points as all four of her field goals came from the three-point line. Then she scored nine against Crescent Valley the next night and hit for 17, including five three-pointers, against Jesuit.
Also contributing big games were Amanda Huck, who hit for 15 against Ashland, 14 against Crescent Valley and 10 against the Crusaders.
Another double-figure scorer was Katherine Bergeron, who combined for 23 points last weekend in the Ashland/Crescent Valley series.
Also figuring mightily in Melin's plan will be Kirsten McNairy, who, at 6-foot, is tall enough to be a post but versatile enough to play guard.
Plus, there's Ali Knecht, an honorable mention all-league pick last season, and senior Kirah Aldinger-Gibson, who probably has more accumulated varsity playing time than anyone on the team.
'We've got a nucleus of probably eight kids that I'm really proud of,' Melin said. 'They can do a lot of things, which is nice. And there's a lot of basketball savvy there.'
Aside from McNairy, the Pacers don't have a lot of height, but Melin doesn't seem too concerned.
'We're kind of the mighty mites. We've got a bunch of the little ones,' the coach said. 'Kirsten is our tallest player, but I think she plays most of the time at wing and point guard.
'It's a lot different than it was at Glencoe, where we always had a big kid or two. This year it's a lot different, so I'm hoping we can get up and down (the court) a little more,' the coach added.
Since the Pacers are somewhat vertically challenged, they'll probably have to depend more on the outside shot to win big games. That's where players like Schmidt will come in handy. In Lakeridge's first three games, the Pacers hit 15 three-pointers and Schmidt had 10 of them.
Others, like Huck and Bergeron, and Courtney Bird in the Jesuit game, have also shown that they can hit the long shot. But Melin doesn't want his players firing away without regard to the situation.
'We've talked a lot about the types of shots they choose, and the kids have really made some good decisions (so far),' the coach said.
Plus, the Pacers will have to do a lot of the little things that win games, like taking care of the ball, hitting foul shots and rebounding.
'We've got to rebound like fiends,' Melin said. 'Against Ashland, we were real successful with our rebounding and we won. Then, we didn't rebound real well against Crescent Valley and we lost.'
There's a decent chance that Lakeridge would have won the Crescent Valley game if Huck had not been forced to sit out the entire fourth quarter with one of the more bizarre injuries of all time.
'She had an injury to the back of her ear. It was very odd,' the coach said. 'It was said that she may have been bit, indiscriminately, not on purpose.'
How do you defend against that?
It reminded some people of the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield boxing match when Tyson bit a chunk out of Holyfield's right ear. It's good bet that Huck will soon have a nickname that will tie into that incident.
'Not yet but we're working on it,' Melin said with a chuckle.