St. Helens girls summer basketball winning a few games, showing improvement
by: John Brewington INCOMING FROSH—St. Helens soon-to-be freshman Rianne Tupper drives the ball to the hoop during a game against Hermiston at Liberty last week. The Lady Lions have a new coach, a new attitude and much better prospects this year.

Winning hasn't really been a word used often around the St. Helens girls' basketball team over the last few years, but if the recent success in the summer program is an indication then that may certainly change.

The summer season is a lot more relaxed than the winter season, and games are often played to a running clock.

Some parents and coaches helped set up the summer schedule, and most recently Billy McKinney was named the new coach. He brought in Aliyah Green, a former Division 1 player, to assist and there's been a whole shift in attitude.

The team went 2-3 in their first tournament, was 2-3 at a tournament at Liberty last week, and then went 3-0 this past weekend at Centennial in what was basically a jayvee tournament with some varsity players. That's a far cry from the winter team that went 0-22 and was ranked next to last in the 5A classification.

'This program is amazing, there is so much potential,' McKinney said. 'I can't believe the talent on this team. It's a dream come true for a coach. I've been smiling and licking my chops.'

McKinney says they have three girls over 6-feet tall on the squad, and everyone is improving. 'Gabby Susee put the ball on the floor, did a crossover and got off a shot the other night. Jillian Ross (point guard) is just a beast on the floor.'

Last weekend, the team beat Tualatin 27-26, topped Corvallis 35-27, and then drubbed Mountain View 31-9.

'They need a little bit of confidence and they came away with smiles on their faces,' McKinney said.

Ball handling has been an issue at times for St. Helens, but playing summer ball is designed to help the situation.

'The sky's the limit. We're not going to win a state championship, but we're going to win some games,' the coach added. He noted that some players, like Monique Smiley, have rejoined the team after bowing out last season.

Currently the team has 11 girls on their tournament roster, but often has more turn up at the gym to work out. Work schedule and other summer sports sometimes keep girls from being at tournaments.

It's not a worry to McKinney. He's scheduling regular games with Scappoose and Clatskanie just to get everyone time on the court.

'We're going through July. I'm trying to get more games right now. Being in the gym and doing workouts is my style and my system. It's good to be in the gym,' he said.

He's trying to get everyone playing time, and work on the floor. The Liberty Tournament had a clinic, and some 'situational' games-games where certain situations are set up for a team to handle, like 40 seconds to go in a tie game.

McKinney said the girls are determined to break from their past and want a fresh start going into the next season. That prompted a recent coaching change at the girls' request.

The team is still very young, but very determined. They have some height and some talent, McKinney said. What they need is as much experience as they can get and that's what the summer program is designed for.

At the Liberty Tournament, against Hermiston the team was fighting for balls under the basket, diving on the court for loose balls, and not giving up when they got down. They came back to tie the game twice, and it was close before a couple of foul shots at the end.

The team is 4-1 since that loss and winning is something they can't get enough of.