The Rangers have a shortened practice schedule before season starts

The Estacada boys basketball team began practicing last week with thoughts of improving on its record from the previous season. The Rangers galloped through much of their non-conference schedule by winning seven of their first nine games and even strung together a five-game winning streak.

But when they started facing their Tri-Valley Conference opponents, the Rangers lost a key player and started to struggle. They put together a 9-14 overall record while going 1-9 against conference opponents, but lost just one league game by five points of fewer.

Estacada, though, still managed to win its play-in game against La Grande and reach the playoffs. And after finishing the year on a high note, the Rangers are hoping that success only manifests this season.

“We think we can be more competitive than last year,” head coach Kevin Kirchhofer says. “Our league is tough but we can be right up near the top.”

Part of the reason Kirchhofer believes his team is destined to improve is because of Ryan Vauthier, one of Estacada's key components from two seasons ago. Vauthier was the team's leading scorer entering league play last year, but in the first game against a conference opponent, he broke his arm and missed the rest of the season.

With three returning starters, the Rangers will implement a more traditional style of the transition offense, which is common within the conference.

“We want to emphasize an increased tempo,” Kirchhofer says.

These initial weeks of practice will give the team time to develop an offensive and defensive approach focused on speed, which the coach believes will generate turnovers and more chances on offense.

One of the difficulties Estacada faces in its preparation is the shortened practice time before the start of the regular season. The Rangers play their first game against Cascade on Dec. 4 at Estacada High School.

“There's not enough time to put everything in before the first game,” Kirchhofer says. “So we're just picking key focus points to get in before that game.”

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