St. Helens has a difficult preseason schedule

by: JOHN BREWINGTON - St. Helens Coach Billy McKinney looks on as the Lady Lions bring the ball down the court during a drill last week. The Lady Lions host Scappoose this Thursday in the season opener.St. Helens girls’ basketball coach Billy McKinney says the Lady Lions may be the quickest team in the Northwest Oregon Conference and one of the best defensively.

There are just 16 players out for basketball at St. Helens this season. The freshman team has been dropped for this season only, and a lot of players will swing between the varsity and jayvee squads.

“It’s a young group, but we’re going to be okay so long as we don’t lose any eligibility or have injuries,” McKinney said. “Practices have been good and intense. They are working hard and executing. We pinpointing some things and starting with a positive attitude.”

He said most of the team will be playing a lot of minutes every night, with many of them going the allowed five quarters between varsity and jayvee.

The team improved their play last season, playing some league teams very close, but only beating Sandy in the conference. Their second meeting went into overtime.

McKinney said a number of his girls had been working hard in the off season and that should help them this season. He noted that he has 12 eighth graders coming in next year as freshmen and that should improve their numbers.

The Lions are not without height on the team. They have 6-foot, 2-inch Lucy Kyle-Milward back as a junior. McKinney said she has “incredibly long arms,” about a 6-8 wingspan. He’s pushing her to improve and expects it will show on the court.

Two of his key weapons will be guards Jillian Ross (5-6) and Michelle Sass (5-5), a senior and a sophomore, respectively. Ross has shown leadership on the floor, and Sass had perhaps the highest scoring game for a Lady Lion in many years. She scored 25 against Sandy in their winning effort.

Other players back with varsity experience include: Nicole Harcourt (5-5, jr.); Stevie Strawn, (5-5, jr.); Ashley Sharp (5-10, jr.); Kennen Hembree (5-6, soph.).

Others with some varsity or jayvee experience include: Rianne Tupper (5-4, soph.); Brittney Bartolomucci (5-7, jr.); Bella Roth (5-10, soph.); Jessica Amick (5-10, soph.); and Sarah Etchison (5-4, jr.) Two freshmen, Annika Bingaman (5-10) and Lydia Reardon (5-6) should also see some varsity action.

McKinney emphasized that many of the players on the varsity and jayvee rosters would see extended playing time, both on varsity and jayvee.

The coach was pleased with the progress the team made last season, and expects more progress this year. He said he believes it’s a four-year plan to make the team highly competitive in the conference, and they are just in the second year.

McKinney said he feels Sherwood, Milwaukie and Parkrose will be strong contenders in the NWOC this season, but that Wilsonville would be a little down after three of their starters moved unexpectedly. He felt St. Helens could be in the middle of the pack and should compete with Liberty, Putnam and Sandy.

McKinney added, “We were fifth in the league in defense last year, but with our speed we should be one of the top defensive teams. We should be able to press, get some corner and sideline traps, and some steals here and there. We’re going to do just fine.”

The season begins quickly for the Lady Lions with three nights of action this week. McKinney said they would like to have another couple weeks of practice, but the team was probably ready to get on the court against competition.

St. Helens is at the Wilsonville jamboree on Wednesday, playing three quarters against three teams. They play Scappoose on Thursday, Nov. 29 in their first home game, and then host The Dalles-Wahtonka on Friday. The Dalles game is slated for 5:30 p.m., prior to the boys’ varsity game.

McKinney is a little concerned about the Scappoose game on Thursday and The Dalles on Friday.

“I’ve been telling the girls not to get overwhelmed. These are huge games, but we’ve been pushing hard in practice and they are excited about it.”

St. Helens is at Hillsboro on Tuesday, Dec. 4 and hosts McMinnville on Dec. 7.

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