Things ease into place for Lady Buffalo basketball

by: Photo By Christina M. Crockett - The Madras girls basketball program returns four players to the varsity team this year, as well as three talented freshmen, including Erika Miller (23), who played with the Buffs in a jamboree at Sisters on Monday night against the Outlaws and Mountain View (shown above).

The upcoming basketball season has the Lady White Buffalos eager to get on the court. With a handful of returning players who offer ample varsity experience, coupled with some fierce freshmen newcomers, Madras looks to be a hot contender as always.
   "We're much faster this year, in the respect that our transitions should be picked up quite a bit," noted Madras head coach Bruce Reece, who starts his second year coaching the Lady White Buffalo varsity team.
   Part of that predicted speed comes from new blood -- freshman standout Briana Stacona, who as a middle school player, spent much time on the court and has traveled throughout the Northwest competing in national basketball tournaments.
   "Briana (Stacona) brings ball handling experience to the team. She'll be valuable to us, even though she's a freshman. She's played a lot of basketball and has a lot of tournament experience behind her," said Reece of the young starting point guard, who will be one of the only freshmen to start on the varsity team.
   Also contributing to the experienced Buffs are four players who are returning to the basketball court with game. Junior wing Susan Ahern, senior post player Jaylyn Suppah and Katie Wunsch, a senior post and wing player, will start for Madras, offering wisdom and skill. Wing player Trina Olson also returns from last year's varsity team.
   "These four will bring a lot of varsity experience. Jaylyn (Suppah) brings a calmness in the middle. She does a nice job directing traffic on defense. Katie (Wunsch) is really invaluable as both a wing and post player," said Reece. "Susan (Ahern) is going to be a big threat inside and out. Defensively, she's also a very solid player."
   While the four returnees add multiple years of talent to the team, the freshmen players look to offer size and athleticism.
   Besides Stacona, Krista Haugen hits the court as the Buffs' tallest player. Right at six feet, Haugen poses to be a strong rebounder, a solid inside shooter and a quick passer, according to Reece. Freshman Erika Miller also steps onto the court, as a shooter with precision.
   Both seniors, Sierra Ferguson, a post player, and point guard Leeann Wolfe, head into their first year on the varsity team as "role players" who will be vital at relief for the White Buffalos and look to contribute strength to the team.
   With a diverse varsity team this year, Coach Reece is pleased with how the girls are coming along and shaping up as a unit, even despite the loss of four vital players from last year: Elise Hawes, Rylee Sweeney, Tara Prow and Marisa Cortez. While Coach Reece noted the talent which spread between the four graduated players, he is optimistic this year's newcomers will slip in and take their place perfectly.
   "Those four were very good players and they will be missed. Last year, we moved Elise (Hawes) from post player to point guard. She did a tremendous job in doing that, but this year we have a true point guard in Briana (Stacona)," said Reece.
   As last year's team proved to be a challenge, this year Coach Reece is honing in on the team's ability to make the girls even better by concentrating more on defense and the simple effectiveness of conditioning. Practice began for the Buffs at the beginning of the month, and in that time, the Buffs have been sifting through their strengths and weaknesses.
   "Our biggest strength, I think, is our ability to handle the ball. Our weakness is our ability to press, but we've been working on that and hopefully we'll get over that and it won't be a weakness anymore," noted Reece.
   Reece also noted that last year's team commonly faltered in finishing the game, which is something he's keeping a close eye on this year. Despite the weakness, the Lady Buffs, who in 2003 where the Class 3A state champions, slipped up against Gladstone in the first round of the postseason, as the Gladiators pulled ahead to defeat Madras, 60-53. With the loss, Madras ended its season with a 13-13 overall record -- which is something Coach Reece hopes to improve this year.
   "Our expectations are very high, absolutely," said Reece. "Last year, we didn't finish games as well as we could, and conditioning is part of that. So, this year, we're working on correcting that. But we're coming along. Thing are really shaping up for us."
   Sisters Jamboree
   While the season officially opened for the Lady White Buffalos yesterday, Nov. 30, Madras got some playing time in to help "shape up" during a jamboree in Sisters on Monday, against the Outlaws and Mountain View. Playing 12-minute, non-recorded games, Madras tested their game skills and look to be promising in the season ahead.
   First taking on Sisters, Madras fell behind, but rallied back to close in on the Outlaws on a foul shot by Haugen. But the Buffs were denied a victory their first time out, as the Outlaws sunk a three-point shot in the last seconds of the game to win, 16-15.
   The outcome was similar in game two against Mountain View, as the Cougars managed to hit a three from the right arc at the buzzer, to pull ahead for a 16-14 win over Madras.
   "I thought we did OK for our first time out. We had a chance and tied the game, they (Mountain View) just hit some good shots at the very end," noted Reece.
   Against Mountain View, Madras first lit up the boards and jumped to a 4-0 lead. The Cougars answered back, though, to steal the lead with 6:48 left on the clock. From that point, Mountain drew away by six, but Ahern hit a three to close the gap.
   With less than a minute remaining in the 12-minute game, Haugen buried an inside shot to tie, 14-14. After a final timeout, Mountain View came back into the game to sink the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
   The jamboree gave Madras a better idea of where the team sits as they prepare to step into another season of basketball. While the Buffs officially opened the season against Summit in Madras, results of the game were not available at press time.
   On Friday, Madras heads to Crook County and will play host to The Dalles next Tuesday at Madras High School at 7:30 p.m.
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