The Lake Oswego girls basketball team has a new coach and five new starters, but they looked like they had been together for years after seeing the team's season-opening 58-44 victory over McMinnville on Tuesday.
That's saying a lot, because Paula Pietrok didn't know that she would be Lake Oswego's new coach until early September. That put Pietrok and her players approximately two months behind other teams in the state as they prepared for the new season.
Granted, Pietrok inherited some talented players, even though none of them started for last year's varsity team. But those players had to spend most of their preseason practice time getting acquainted with Pietrok's new offensive and defensive sets. The coach plans to use the month of December for more of the same.
'What we're doing, from November 5th to January 4th, is what pretty much every other school had in June and July. So, now they're basically two months ahead of us,' Pietrok said. 'I keep telling the girls to keep that in perspective, because we're going to be OK.'
OK?! The Lakers were a lot better than OK on Monday. Considering the circumstances and the fact that it was the first game of the year, Lake Oswego looked like a team that will be hard to beat this year.
The game didn't start out like that, however. In fact, McMinnville looked like the better team at the start. The Lakers seemed disoriented in the early portion of the game as everyone tried to figure out who they were guarding.
That helped the visiting Grizzlies jump to a 17-9 lead late in the first quarter. But, once the Lakers settled in, there was no stopping them.
One of the keys to the turnaround was the play of senior wing Becky Luetjen, who wound up being the game's high scorer with 23 points. She scored on an assortment of drives and inside moves that McMinnville was powerless to stop.
'She's very deceptive at both ends of the floor,' Pietrok said. 'She's very quick and reads passing lanes well defensively. And offensively, she has a variety of moves.'
Luetjen had a 10-point spurt that turned Lake Oswego's early deficit into a 19-all tie early in the second quarter.
It also helped to have the strong inside presence that 6-foot-3 Shannon Reader provided for the Lakers. The Grizzlies didn't have anyone who could match up with her inside. But Reader only scored 12 points in the game as she was content to help set up scoring opportunities for Luetjen.
Even though McMinnville had trouble guarding Luetjen and Reader, the Lakers did a good job of sharing the scoring load. In fact, nine players scored in Monday's game and five of them had never played in a varsity game before.
'None of the girls on the perimeter played any varsity last year,' Pietrok said. 'So that (requires) a whole lot of growing and learning and getting in sync.'
One of the better games was turned in by Kate Childs, a 5-11 junior, who seemingly played everywhere on the floor. She was Lake Oswego's third-leading scorer with a pair of strong drives to the baskets and one long jumper. Her second driving basket gave Lake Oswego a 36-25 lead early in the third period.
Also playing important roles in the victory were Miranda Babcock-Krenk, a 5-9 sophomore, and Lisa Blakely, a 5-5 junior. Babcock-Krenk made some big plays on defense while contributing two points on the offensive end, and Blakely was a solid playmaker while scoring three points. In addition, Simone Sullivan, Cali Reis, Mackenzie Marr and Hannah Hogensen all scored despite getting a limited number of opportunities.
All things considered, it would be hard to complain about the Lakers' season-opening effort.
'They showed some character,' Pietrok said. 'And once they got the lead, they maintained it.'
It was also a good way for Pietrok to start her career at Lake Oswego, but winning is nothing new for her.
Her coaching resume includes stops at Lewis and Clark College, where she led two teams to the national tournament. Plus, she was the head coach and assistant athletic director at Willamette University for an eight-year run that yielded two conference championships. She then 'moved up' to Division II Western Oregon, but the women's program there was severely under-funded and Pietrok left after four frustrating years.
Pietrok almost seemed ready to walk away from coaching after that experience. But she did spend a year as Heather Roberts' assistant coach at Canby. Then, the LO job opened up when Jason Fawcett announced his resignation after one very successful year on the job.
The timing could not have been much better for Pietrok, who was almost subdued by the end of Monday's game. She reserved all of her excitement for her players, many of which hadn't been in this position before. Even though most of the players are inexperienced at this level, Pietrok knows they can play.
'All I can say is this team will be competitive,' the coach said. 'I think we'll surprise some people.'